Lib Dem MSP cleared in election spending inquiry slams SNP

Alex Cole Hamilton. Picture: Greg Macvean
Alex Cole Hamilton. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A Liberal Democrat MSP has launched a stinging attack on the SNP after being cleared of alleged breaches of election spending rules.

Alex Cole-Hamilton says he endured investigations lasting more than two years after his victory over the SNP’s Tony Giuliano in 2016, and accused Nationalists of “disregarding the democratic process”.

The Electoral Commission yesterday cleared him of breaking rules on party spending in the campaign which led to his election in the Edinburgh Western constituency during the 2016 Holyrood vote.

The seat had previously been held by the SNP.

Police had already ruled that Mr Cole-Hamilton had no case to answer after a separate probe into the claims.

The row centred on the number of leaflets that had been distributed in the Edinburgh Western constituency and the split between the candidate’s campaign and national party spending.

A letter from the Electoral Commission to the MSP yesterday states: “In view of the responses to this aspect of the investigation, we are satisfied that there were no breaches in respect of the apportionments.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton MSP said members of West Edinburgh SNP had made an allegation to the elections watchdog immediately after a 15-month police inquiry which, he claimed, the SNP also initiated.

“All told the SNP have seen me subjected to two taxpayer-funded investigations spanning a total of 27 months,” Mr Cole-Hamilton said.

“While the cost to the public purse of these is hard to quantify, the waste of police time in particular is inexcusable.

“To suffer an unexpected and heavy defeat is hard, but that’s politics.

“To then meet that defeat with a complaint to overstretched police officers is a wilful disregard of both the democratic process and the public good.

“I hope the SNP reflect on that as defeat becomes more commonplace to them.

“Finally, if their intention was to distract me from the job I love, then they have failed.

“Every single day of these past 27 months I have continued to work my heart out for the people and communities of West Edinburgh I’m so proud to serve.”

An Electoral Commission spokesperson said: “We are aware of the comments by Mr Cole-Hamilton. However, in line with our regulatory responsibilities the investigation we opened was into the Liberal Democrat Party’s spending return from the 2016 Scottish Parliament election and this investigation has yet to conclude.

“Mr Cole-Hamilton has taken the unusual step of sharing extracts from a letter which the Commission sent to the Liberal Democrats. Our investigation is ongoing. We will publish the outcome when it is concluded but until then we have no further comment to make on what is a live matter.”

Edinburgh Western was a key target for the Lib Dems in the 2016 Scottish election.

Mr Cole-Hamilton won by a majority of 2,960 over the SNP’s Tony Giugliano, selected by the local party over sitting SNP MSP Colin Keir.

Lib Dem Margaret Smith held the seat until the 2011 Scotland-wide SNP landslide.