Ian Swanson: Yes/No funding row won’t matter

EuroMillions lottery winners Colin and Chris Weir. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
EuroMillions lottery winners Colin and Chris Weir. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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Money is not key to winning this year’s Scottish independence referendum because of spending limits, says Ian Swanson

WHAT do Harry Potter author JK Rowling, whisky distillers William Grant & Sons and Highland landowner the Earl of Seafield have in common?

The answer has nothing to do with magic, drinking or mountains. It is that all three have given large amounts of money to the anti-independence Better Together campaign.

Latest figures for big donations – those over £7500 – to the two sides in the referendum campaign show the No camp received a total of £2.4 million in the past six months compared with £1.2m for Yes Scotland.

Altogether, since June last year, it is estimated the No campaign has raised £6.9m while Yes is about £2m behind.

Earlier this year, Better Together was complaining it was being outspent by Yes Scotland, which has received £3.5m from EuroMillions lottery winners Chris and Colin Weir. Tory MSP Alex Johnstone went as far as accusing the SNP of trying to “buy” the referendum.

Now the influx of No donations has changed the balance. So what is the significance of JK Rowling’s £1m gift, the £135,000 from William Grant and the £100,000 from the Earl of Seafield, as well as £200,000 from Edinburgh-born crime writer Christopher “CJ” Sansom and sizeable contributions from other landowners, investment bankers and Tory donors?

Observers note the increase in cash support coincided with polls which showed the No lead narrowing.

Better Together says it is “humbled” by the level of support and points out it has also raised £1.6m from smaller donations from “thousands of ordinary Scots”.

But a Yes Scotland insider claims the late surge in large donations for the No campaign shows there’s still all to play for.

He says: “People who support a No vote realise Yes has every chance of winning. This is the establishment coming together to defend an arrangement that has suited them very well.”

Yes Scotland chief executive Blair Jenkins has said the No side is being funded largely by “wealthy landowners, bankers and rich Tories, many of whom live outwith Scotland” – an echo, perhaps, of the claim that the 1707 union saw Scotland “bought and sold for English gold”.

A company called Flowidea, headed by reclusive millionaire stockbroker Henry Angest, and which gave £100,000 to Better Together, has donated £1m to the Tory party in the past.

Stagecoach founder Sir Brian Souter, meanwhile, gave £100,000 donations to Business for Scotland and Christians for Independence.

Given that these latest figures are for donations already received, most of the money now being talked about has probably already been spent. The next report on donations might reveal further contributions of a similar scale, but in some ways it is too late.

Strict limits on campaign spending came into effect at the end of May for the final 16-week run-up to referendum day on September 18.

The Yes and No camps are now restricted to expenditure of £1.5m on campaigning, which levels the playing field. Both have enough money to spend up to that limit.

And although they can pay for extra staff without breaching the rules, insiders say such moves are unlikely to make much difference at this stage.