Alex Salmond's supporters came out fighting yesterday against an accusation that the SNP administration in Scotland was giving off a "smell of sleaze" over plans by the US billionaire Donald Trump to build a golf resort on the Aberdeenshire coast.
SNP politicians accused Scotland's Liberal Democrat leader, Nicol Stephen who has opposed the plan of irresponsibility and demanded that he apologise to one of the country's civil servants for allegedly questioning the man's integrity. The proposed 1bn development was turned down by a committee of the council in Aberdeenshire, on the casting vote of a Liberal Democrat councillor, but the council has, in effect, been overruled by the SNP-run Scottish Government.
Mr Trump's plan has powerful support in Scotland, because it would bring 1,440 jobs to the area, although environmentalists have warned against its impact on a scientifically important stretch of coastline.
Brian Adam, the SNP Member of the Scottish Parliament for North Aberdeen, accused the Liberal Democrats yesterday of "sabotaging"a scheme that could bring prosperity. "Nicol Stephen's game of seeking cheap headlines with false charges is the height of irresponsibility," he said.
But even some of the plan's backers are alarmed by the multiple links between the SNP and the Trump organisation, which could give objectors grounds for claiming that the environmental case has not been given a fair hearing.
Mr Stephen told the Scottish Parliament: "Every step of the way there is contradiction, concealment and cleverness from his government on this issue. It smells of sleaze."
It has emerged that Mr Salmond was in Aberdeen and met executives of the Trump organisation on the day before the decision was made to overrule the local council. Mr Salmond is the MSP for Gordon, which includes part of the site of the planned resort, and has argued that he has an obligation to hear both sides of an argument that affects his constituency.
He has excluded himself from the decision to reconsider Mr Trump's plan, which was left to Scotland's finance secretary, John Swinney. But it has also emerged that, 48 hours before making the decision, Mr Swinney was in New York, visiting another golf resort owned by Donald Trump.
In another twist to the story, the chief executive of Aberdeenshire council, Alan Campbell, had a telephone call from Jim McKinnon, chief planner for the Scottish Government, about council procedures. Mr Campbell broke off the conversation after discovering that Mr McKinnon had two representatives of the Trump organisation in the room with him.
Mr McKinnon's conduct was questioned in the Scottish Parliament by the Liberal Democrat leader but, yesterday, the SNP demanded that he back down. Alex Neil, MSP for Central Scotland, said: "Nicol Stephen made unfounded allegations concerning the professionalism and conduct of one of Scotland's most respected civil servants. He should apologise."
Mr Trump has proposed to build two championship golf courses, a hotel, a golf academy, nearly 1,000 holiday homes and 500 private houses in a gated community. The Scottish Wildlife Trust warned one of the UK's most important sand dunes systems was at risk.
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