A CONSERVATIVE MSP has resigned from the party’s front bench in a lobbying row.

Peter Chapman quit as rural affairs spokesman after asking Aberdeenshire councillors to back a planning application without disclosing he had a related financial interest.

The 68-year-old farmer, a North East list MSP since 2016, said he had been “foolish”.

The SNP said Ruth Davidson needed to "clean up" her party after a series of controversies involving MSPs and councillors.

Mr Chapman spoke last week to several members of the council’s Garioch Area Committee about an application by farming co-operative Aberdeen and Northern Marts (ANM) Group.

The group is expanding its operation at Thainstone, Inverurie, and Mr Chapman rang councillors to promote the scheme without mentioning he had a £50,000 stake in ANM.

He left a message on an SNP councillor’s phone in which he introduced himself as an MSP and rural affairs spokesman, saying the project was important for local jobs.

He said: “This is a very important part of the strategy for the group going forward and I’m just hoping that this application gets looked on in a positive manner.”

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Four hours after the Daily Record put the remarks to the Tories, Mr Chapman stepped down.

The party said Mr Chapman’s stake was not linked to ANM’s performance, as shareholders accrued a set rate of interest, and so he would not have gained financially from the project.

However in his resignation letter to Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson, Mr Chapman, who remains an MSP, admitted failing to disclose his relationship with ANM.

He said: “It’s quite clear with hindsight that I should have made my financial interest in the phone calls clear and that it was a foolish oversight on my behalf not to do so.

“I failed to maintain the high standards of transparency that is expected of MSPs. As a result, I cannot in all conscience continue in post, hence my reason for offering my resignation.

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“It was not my intention to hide this - indeed anyone can see the details of my investment on the Scottish Parliament register of interests.

“I can say hand on heart that my only thought was to support a local business and improve our local economy.

“I deeply regret this incident and I only hope people will see if for what it is: an honest mistake taken while trying to help my local constituents and the Aberdeenshire economy.”

Ms Davidson accepted his resignation “with regret”.

She said: “Your commitment to this brief over the last two years has been admirable, combining all your decades of experience in the agriculture industry with your history of service to Scotland’s farmers as a former NFUS vice president.

"While I fully accept that you acted in this instance on behalf of your constituent to promote local employment – to no financial benefit yourself – it is a mark of your integrity that you choose to step down, rather than allow for any hint of impropriety.

“I know your strong commitment in all things is to your constituents in the North East, and that you will continue to serve them with vigour over the months and years ahead.”

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SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson said: "The time has now come for Ruth Davidson to clean up her party. She really needs to get a grip of her self-interested colleagues on the Tory benches.

"The Tories think that they can do what they want and get away with it – but time and time again they get caught out. Peter Chapman is not the first, and I doubt he’ll be the last.

"This latest example is an incredibly serious issue."  

Labour MSP Colin Smyth said: “This sudden announcement provides more questions than answers. “Ruth Davidson’s band of Tory MSPs are well known for their long registers of interests - and she must be furious with him over this latest revelation.

“The public deserve to know how this situation came about, who knew about it and when – and whether any other Tory MSPs have been engaging in similar behaviour on other issues.

“People in the north-east and across Scotland deserve answers.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Greens said: "It’s no surprise that a Tory has been found lobbying without declaring his financial interests, instead of serving his constituents.

"The party of landed wealth, cruel social policies and contempt for the Scottish Parliament is full of people who view being an MSP as a hobby rather than public service.

"No amount of shuffling of Ruth Davidson’s pack will change that fact.”