ANGUS Robertson has defended the secret deal that saw him paid an extra £33,000 a year while leader of the SNP’s Westminster group.

Now the constitution and culture secretary at Holyrood, Mr Robertson accepted the cash while in charge of the 56 MPs returned in the SNP tsunami at the 2015 general election.

The extra was based on the top-up given to a junior UK  government minister at the time, which was a public figure.

However Mr Robertson didn’t publish his pay hike, keeping even fellow SNP MPs in the dark.

“I'm not in the habit of discussing my pay with other colleagues,” he said today. 

The Scottish Tories said he had a "total brass neck", given other payments were public.

It only emerged last month via the press that Mr Robertson had taken the money, which was turned down by his successor Ian Blackford.

READ MORE: Angus Robertson paid 'secret £33,000 extra' as SNP Westminster leader

The leader of the main opposition at the Commons has long been entitled to an allowance to help them perform their extra duties, and the figures are public.

Government ministers and the opposition and Government chief whips also receive publicly disclosed top-ups, which in 2015/16 were £33,207 on top of their £74,000 MP’s salary.

Despite there being no automatic hike for other opposition leaders, the executive of the SNP group decided to pay Mr Robertson £33,207 as he was leading the third largest party.

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However few SNP MPs knew of the arrangement, which later angered some of them and was held up as yet another example of the party’s secrecy culture.

The Sunday Times said the money was taken out of public funds paid to opposition parties in the Commons known as Short money.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing, but the arrangement stopped when Mr Robertson lost his Moray seat in the 2017 election to the Tories and Ian Blackford took over the SNP group.

The current group leader Stephen Flynn has also foregone the payment.

Appearing on BBC Radio Scotland this morning, Mr Robertson was asked about the transparency around his £33,000 pay boost as SNP Westminster leader.

He said: “Firstly, on the issue of opposition party leaders, the leader of the Labour Party receives a salary commensurate with him being the leader of the main opposition party.

“And when the SNP became the third party in the House of Commons, the executive of the SNP group decided that they were going to do likewise.

“The transparency rules around that were subject to the advice by the House of Commons authorities, and those were followed in full.”

Asked why he didn’t tell colleagues in the SNP at the time, he said: “I'm not in the habit of discussing my pay with other colleagues. 

“And I certainly don't think that one should be creating an impression of any impropriety when there was absolutely none.”

Police are currently investigating the SNP’s finances after complaints £660,000 raised specifically for Indyref2 was spent on other things.

Former chief executive Peter Murrell, the husband of Nicola Sturgeon, and now former treasurer Colin Beattie have both been arrested and released with charge.

The SNP has been struggling to find auditors willing to have the party as a client since the last firm, Johnston Carmichael, quit last September.

Asked how concerned he was about the SNP’s inability to find auditors, Mr Robertson said: “Well, these are requirements that political parties and groups at Westminster need to fulfil. So obviously, it is a challenge. And I know that colleagues are working very hard so that they can abide by the auditing rules.”

READ MORE: Culture minister refuses to comment on Cherry Fringe row

Unless the SNP group at Westminster can get its spending for 2022/23 signed off by an auditor by May 31, it will lose access to £1.2m of public funds in 2023/24.

“I wish them success and getting auditors in place to make the necessary assessments so the deadlines can be fulfilled,” Mr Robertson said. 

“The issue of Westminster groups, whether that's the SNP or the Labour Party, or the Conservative Party, having their accounts audited are not a matter for their party's headquarters. They are a matter for the parliamentary group. 

“And I wish my colleagues well in the Westminster SNP group and having the auditors in place to do the necessary annual audits which all political parties at Westminster need to go through.”

Asked how concerned he was about turbulence in the party, particularly transparency around its finances, the Edinburgh Central MSP said: “Well, I'm as concerned as anybody is about their own political party. I've been a member since I was 15 or 16. 

“It grieves me to see the reporting and the arrests of people that I know. 

“But what I do know is that we have due and legal process in this country, and we have the presumption of innocence before guilt, not that you might get the impression of that from some of the media coverage that we've seen in recent weeks and months. 

“So what I'm going to do is keep my counsel. I'm going to allow the police and prosecuting authorities to work out if any bar has been reached for any form of charges. 

“And I'll reserve judgement until that point.”

Asked why he didn’t run for the leadership of the SNP when Ms Sturgeon quit, he said: “Same reason as I gave at the time, which is I have two very young children. I have two daughters under the ages of two and four.

“And for me, I didn't feel that I could be the best dad that I want to be and be the best First Minister. And that's why I made the decision that I wouldn't run.”

Asked if he knew of the problems in the party which emerged after Ms Sturgeon resigned and he wanted to avoid them, he said: “No, I didn't.”

Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy said: “Angus Robertson has a total brass-neck claiming the SNP followed transparency rules over this extra money he received while their leader at Westminster.

“This payment was only revealed last month – years after it was paid to him. 

“Not only were the public kept in the dark, but senior SNP figures were also completely unaware of the then Moray MP enjoying this generous second salary.

“This payment was yet another example of how the SNP are totally addicted to secrecy and Angus Robertson totally failed to be upfront when challenged about it.

“It is up to him – and the SNP as a whole – to finally come clean about why this payment was kept secret for so long."