The Freedom of Information case relating to Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander's illegal donations scandal which was won last week by the Information Commissioner former has raised fresh questions about the circumstances surrounding the testimony given to the Electoral Commmission by Ms Alexander and her team. 

Comments given by the ruling judge also cast doubt on claims made by the Commission that it issued a statement to each witness suggesting their testimonies would remain confidential.

Last week a High Court judge ruled in favour of the Information Commissionerand and the Electoral Commission in a long-running Freedom of Information case. The ‘win’ was a pyrrhic victory for Alexander, and one that left the Electoral Commission’s credibility in tatters.

The case was brought by a Scottish voter, David Ferguson, and has been running for close to three years. It concerned an Electoral Commission investigation into the illegal donation received by Alexander’s Labour leadership campaign from Jersey businessman Paul Green, and the false attribution of the donation to a different, legal source.

Following the Electoral Commission’s investigation, it announced that an offence had been committed with regard to the receipt of the illegal donation, but that no prosecution would be brought.

It also held that it had found insufficient evidence to justify a prosecution for attempting to cover up the source of the illegal donation – a much more serious offence, which carries a mandatory sentence of a five-year ban from serving in any elected office. This was in spite of the fact that the Electoral Commission itself had been the recipient of a document that claimed that the illegal Paul Green donation had come from a Glasgow company called Combined Property Services – a legal source.

Subsequently, the Commission refused to provide any information at all to the public to explain its decisions.

Ferguson had asked the Commission to reveal the explanation provided by the Alexander campaign team for the false attribution of the Paul Green donation, but High Court judge Andrew Bartlett and two lay tribunal members held that the Electoral Commission was right to withhold the information on two grounds.

One was a procedural matter – That Ferguson had failed to demonstrate that he had sought legal advice about the possible redress that might be available if the Electoral Commission had failed in its duty to the public.

The second resulted from the tribunal’s interpretation of an obscure provision of the Data Protection Act under which data can be withheld from the public if it might cause distress to the ‘data subject’ – in this case Ms Alexander - irrespective of the importance to the public interest of disclosure.

Said Mr Ferguson: “The first matter is easily remedied. As to the second, it’s one of these instances where the law appears to be an ass. It encourages a politician to lie to the Electoral Commission.

“The bigger the lie, the greater the distress that would be caused if it were revealed to the public. And the higher the likelihood of distress, the stronger the claim under data protection to withhold the information from the public.

But this interpretation of data protection is dependent on a judicial ruling that has never been tested in the Supreme Court.”

The ruling will make particularly uncomfortable reading for the Electoral Commission. Throughout the FoI case, the Commission has invoked the Data Protection Act on behalf of the Alexander team, repeatedly claiming that it made a statement to each of them at the start of its investigation that would have led to an expectation that their evidence would not be revealed.

But Judge Bartlett could find no trace of the statement in any of the Commission’s evidence. His judgement stated:
“We found no trace of such a statement in any of the interview notes or in the correspondence conducted in the same time period as the interviews… the Commission did not record details of the making of (the statement), so that its precise wording is not available to us; nor were we told whether it was made before, during or after the interviews; nor is it known for certain to which interviewees it was made.”

Said Ferguson “This is bizarre. This ‘statement’ was one of the key pillars of the Electoral Commission case. It appears numerous times during their submissions, along with the claim that it was read out to the Alexander team. It is very detailed and very carefully worded, and yet the Judge could find no trace of its existence. There was a closed session in the Appeal hearing from which I was excluded, and that is when the matter must have come to light. I only learned that there is no evidence that the statement actually existed when I saw the Appeal Decision. What does the Electoral Commission think it’s doing?”

Nor will Alexander derive any great comfort from the fingertip nature of the ruling in her favour, which allows her to continue to suppress the information about why her team provided false information about the source of the illegal Paul Green donation.

In the course of the closed session of the Appeal hearing, Judge Bartlett had the opportunity to examine the explanation provided by the Alexander team for the false reporting of the Green donation. His ruling hardly represents a ringing endorsement of her case: “…in our judgment  the  release of [the explanation] would  risk placing the data subjects under a cloud of suspicion… where, as a result, undue distress would be likely to ensue.”

The finding begs a massive question. If Alexander and her team were guilty of no wrongdoing, and if the Electoral Commission did its job properly, then the explanation for the false reporting of the illegal donation ought to have been plausible and innocent. Why on earth would the release of a plausible and innocent explanation risk placing Alexander and her team under ‘a cloud of suspicion’? Why might it cause them ‘undue distress’?

Surely the opposite should be the case. Surely making a plausible and innocent explanation available to the public ought to remove any trace of suspicion that there was any wrongdoing.

Asked for a final comment, Ferguson replied: “Remember that iconic photo of a polar bear standing on its tiptoes on the remnants of a disappearing ice floe? I am giving careful consideration to appealing this decision.”

Last week Newsnet Scotland revealed that Mr Ferguson had been targeted by a senior Scottish Labour official in a failed smear attempt.  The full story can be read by following the links below.

Labour and the smear gone wrong

The Scottish media: What is the extent of Labour’s influence?


# robbie 2010-11-14 09:45
"Following the Electoral Commission’s investigation, it announced that an offence had been committed with regard to the receipt of the illegal donation, but that no prosecution would be brought."

Even trying to mislead where the money came from, and still she gets off Scot free.
Stinks to high heaven , don't it.
# chicmac 2010-11-14 12:56
Quoting robbie:
"Following the Electoral Commission’s investigation, it announced that an offence had been committed with regard to the receipt of the illegal donation, but that no prosecution would be brought."

Even trying to mislead where the money came from, and still she gets off Scot free.
Stinks to high heaven , don't it.

Maybe they would have done the same for an SNP Minister. WHOOSH,... OINK!

Remember the Electoral Commission's part in the totally false overspend claims leveled at the SNP in Angus last election.
# Roll_On_2011 2010-11-14 10:08
Coincidentally I have just put the following comment on another thread:


Were it appears that another ‘government arms length’ Quango has buried data that could lead to embarrassment to our ruling elite in Westmidden. So given the above with regards the Electoral Commission I must say I am overwhelmed by surprise.

I use the term, government arms length, above loosely because each/all of these Quango’s have one thing in common - they owe their very existence to the amount of money (our money) they get from the Government at Westmidden.

So is it any surprise that these so called ‘independent bodies’ are not fully compliant to the aims they were setup for - to maintain and regulate in order to protect the citizen and provide transparency for the accountability of our governing elite.

I am mindful that ‘Call Me Dave’ and ‘Crash Gordon’ have both gone on record to state they will do whatever is required to keep Scotland within the UK, or words to that effect.

I am also reminded of the following cliché - Whoever pays the piper names the tune.
# enneffess 2010-11-14 10:53
Look on the bright side, she is unlikely ever to become Labour leader again.
# muckledug 2010-11-14 13:32
Quoting enneffess:
Look on the bright side, she is unlikely ever to become Labour leader again.

Alexander's future prospects are neither here nor there. What we appear to be dealing with is collusion between the public body set up to administer elections, the Scottish judiciary and a political party.
The argument presentd in this article appears to be unanswerable: if the Alexander teams submissions satisfactorily explain the false attribution of the donation, why would this tend to place them under a 'cloud of suspicion' rather than dispel such doubts?
# RaboRuglen 2010-11-14 12:21

This sort of thing just goes to demonstrate the extent to which every aspect of life in Civic Scotland has been permeated by the Labour party - "missing" electoral registers, favourable "land deals", links with organised crime and of course the daddy of them all, the BBC.

Nothing can be proved because most of the influence is exerted behind closed doors but the results are clear for all to see - democracy subverted.

# mato21 2010-11-14 12:50
Mr Ferguson another example of how the people are held in contempt.I hope you have the energy left to forward your appeal.Best wishes with it
# Robabody 2010-11-14 13:18
Need any help with funding Mr Ferguson?
# mato21 2010-11-14 13:24
I too would donate if required
# Holebender 2010-11-14 14:32
Me too.
# springy 2010-11-14 13:40
I'm willing to bet my life that one of the journalists who suppressed the story about Labour's attempt at smearing Mr Ferguson was one Tom Gordon over at The Herald. Another front page today attacking the SNP has Mr Gordon's name on it. No coincidence that the story is based on Iain Gray's questions on Thursday.
# Seagetagrip 2010-11-14 13:58
Just received e mail from Beeb re my post on Taylors blog and notice relevant one by J McClure also removed.
All I said was " Personally I visit the unmentionable for the truth regarding current affairs"
The ost remained for two days before paranoia set in at Pacific Quay.

I have fifty qid available as a contribution towards a full page advert for Newsnet. You only have to ask.
# ScotlandUnspun 2010-11-14 14:20
That's a great offer. There are issues around Newsnet taking donations which is perhaps not best getting into publicly.

Just as a matter of interest and purely hypothetically: If you were offered a share in Newsnet for that 50 pounds and that meant you could then spend that 50 pounds on articles of your choice being created and published would you spend your 50 that way? Keeping in mind that you owned a share on Newsnet and money from advertising would then be allocated to you for spending on more content. Is that something that would interest you?
# Barontorc 2010-11-14 14:30
Alex, I'm in for that - tell me what's to be done to take a share in Newsnet for the benefit of free democracy.
# bmc875 2010-11-14 14:34
Scotlandunspun 14.20.

I would! In a heartbeat. Enough is enough (and me a pacifist!)
# Robabody 2010-11-14 20:26
In the event of a prolonged hostile attack would liabilities an issue? And what limiting factors would there be?

Otherwise I'd be interested
# baudron 2010-11-14 21:52
Count me in as well 50 quid well spent as far as im concerned
# bmc875 2010-11-14 14:32
Me too!
# ScotlandUnspun 2010-11-14 14:46
It's just one idea floating around and it may have downsides so please see it as hypothetical. I just wanted to gauge the feeling on the subject. So far, very positive.

# Robert Louis 2010-11-14 17:16
I'd buy a share too.......but I'm a socialist?

Seriously I'd be keen to help finance Newsnet. All of us together can make a difference.

Has something similar been done for a web site elsewhere in the past.
# 1scot 2010-11-14 17:25
Quoting ScotlandUnspun:
It's just one idea floating around and it may have downsides so please see it as hypothetical. I just wanted to gauge the feeling on the subject. So far, very positive.


I would jump at the chance.
# muckledug 2010-11-14 14:49
Obviously I don't know the ins and outs of what's permissable re funding of Newsnet but it seems to me that what is required is a regular income which can be used to plan ahead. One-off donations (though welcome I'm sure) do not enable you to do this.
I'd be up for a £50 'share' but would really be interested in setting up a monthly direct debit. Even a small amount per month (say a fiver) paid by a substantial number of members could really help Newsnet 'take-off'.
# Moone 2010-11-14 15:03
Or even sufficient income to hire a full or perhaps part time investigative journalist to weedle out facts and truthful stories. Perhaps someone like Joan McAlpine for example(hello Joan).
# ScotlandUnspun 2010-11-14 15:06
muckledug, the model can mean buying multiple shares and also a cap.

Thanks for your feedback - we need to test people's feelings but don't want to create expectations..
# Online Editor 2010-11-14 15:01
As ScotlandUnspun says, there are many things being discussed at the moment. We cannot go into any detail for obvious reasons but suffice to say that everything and anything is being considered.
# rgweir 2010-11-14 15:34
Where is the little box you tick to get all the posts sent to your mailbox?
# Online Editor 2010-11-14 15:38
Hi rg

We removed the facility after a number of complaints from people tired of receiving a continuous stream of emails.
# Seagetagrip 2010-11-14 15:40
I was really interested in helping to buy ppublicity for Newsnet but am open to any suggestions to help.
# rgweir 2010-11-14 15:44
Or you could say that i need to keep coming back in to check for new comments which in turn will increase the number of hits on the site.
# ScotlandUnspun 2010-11-14 16:06
na, that's not the idea at all. The stats that matter are unique visitors not number of visits..

I do agree that there is a downside here. Sometimes I visit threads and miss responses because they are based on comments further up the thread. It is helpful to get alerts to responses.. And, if people don't like getting streams of emails then they shouldn't sign up for them.

I think this is a well-intended change but I suspect on balance maybe being too helpful..
# mato21 2010-11-14 15:46
Shares in newsnet great idea
# rgweir 2010-11-14 15:49
Has anyone seen the shares in TRINITY MIRROR.
# Roll_On_2011 2010-11-14 16:03

Trinity Mirror Share Price Falls by 15 per cent in Wake of Trading Update


An estimated £40 million was yesterday wiped off the stock market value of Trinity Mirror, publishers of The Daily Record and Sunday Mail newspapers, plus numerous Scottish local titles, as part of the Scottish & Universal Newspapers division.

Reports today's press, shares in Trinity Mirror yesterday ended down by 15 per cent, or 16p, to 88.75p. It came on the back of a trading update - issued earlier in the day - from the publishers that its advertising revenue had dipped by six per cent.
# mato21 2010-11-14 16:08
They have no one to blame but themselves they have been well enough warned where their biased policy was taking them.People don't buy advertisers don't advertise Simple
# Roll_On_2011 2010-11-14 16:12
Earlier this week Johnston Press - publisher of The Scotsman - also announced a drop in advertising revenue.


No wonder Elmer Fudd wants to give them a taxpayer’s cash injection should he grasp power next May.
# J Wil 2010-11-14 17:07
Recirculation of public money for services rendered to political parties is not acceptable. I believe Labour did the same trick with union funding, as per the flow chart shown on Guidos blog.
# Robabody 2010-11-14 20:31
Anyone got a couple of wooden stakes and a mallet just to make sure?
# ScotlandUnspun 2010-11-14 16:20
Guys, can you compile info on advertising sales and readership of the different Newsnet competitors?

If you could submit an article that would be great, if not then all the info on one comment, we'll lift it and run a piece..
# G. P. Walrus 2010-11-14 17:12
A reply to the £50 idea but posted here in the hope that you see it:
I have thought for some time that there is a need for a news platform that allows journalists to publish and get paid for what readers read. Readers are reluctant to pay for articles they don't read. Perhaps an upfront payment by each reader from which micro-amounts are deducted per article read and go to the author, less a cut for the platform, would work.

I have no idea how this would work out. I read NewsNetScotland most days and usually browse through 2-3 articles. I reckon £5 per week would be reasonable for a newspaper, so let's say I would on that basis be prepared to pay £5 for 10-15 articles. That's up to 50p per article. I would not want to pay twice for reading the same article or extra for posting to it though.
If 100 subscribers read an article, that's £50 less the platform's cut for the author. The idea of subscribers as "shareholders" who can influence editorial policy is a good one if it can be realised.
There is also a need to allow unpopular but fairly argued content to maintain quality and balance - beginning to ramble now so I'll end here.
# call me dave 2010-11-14 16:38
Count me in too 'shares in Newsnet' that's a good idea.

Two stories in the newspapers are SNP smears this weekend
1.SNP to give flat screen TV's to prisoners (a non-story when you work out the facts)
2. £1M from SNP to help get correct benefits due to the unemployed who; are painted / implied as all spongers by press
# kofk 2010-11-14 16:57
you can contact all dailys and sunday newspapers regarding advertising they will send you rates and readership numbers (usually 3 times more than distribution)if your more specific when contacting them their marketing dept will give you a better breakdown..after that count the adds in each newspaper with roughly a 15% discount off the total and your getting close to how much they are bringing in
# J Wil 2010-11-14 17:08
What is a better breakdown? Better for whom?
# Quinie frae Angus 2010-11-14 17:11
I too am up for any financial assistance required to help Newsnet take off. Can't afford much at the moment but would happily pay a £50 "share" or say a tenner a month direct debit.

Remember last year when the independence supporters managed to raise - was it £50,000? - at very short notice to enable the SNP to mount an appeal regarding the scandalous unfairness of the so-called "leaders' debates"? It can be done...because we know it has to be done! A revolution cannot be generated with goodwill alone....

Go Lassie Go blog is well worth reading today, on the power of the Scottish blogosphere and social media. Don't know how to do the link, sorry!
# cynicalHighlander 2010-11-14 17:47
Quoting Quinie frae Angus:
Go Lassie Go blog is well worth reading today, on the power of the Scottish blogosphere and social media. Don't know how to do the link, sorry!

Just copy/paste url.
or use BBCode.
Old and new media - the battle for Scotland: joanmcalpine.typepad.com/.../...
# Seagetagrip 2010-11-14 17:30
When you have time to get sorted, maybe On Line Ed could tell people where to send contributions as long as it is not in Bermuda.....!
# velofello 2010-11-14 17:37
Not too sure about Newsnet raising capltal via a shares issue.Newsnet could end up with a number of well -heeled trolls being substantial shareholders and so having a strong input on policy. And where does their money come from?
Whilst investment capital is useful, regular income to enable a positive cashflow keeps the wolves at bay. A monthly subscription to me.
just a thought to conclude, how many newspapers must be sold to recoup £250,000 for a questionable home video? If it was indeed your money.Refer back to Newsnet potential shareholders. above.
# ScotlandUnspun 2010-11-14 17:42
Good points. The idea would not effect ultimate editorial policy but be shares in a content fund. In this model the shares would likely be capped (as I said above) to ensure that no-one could exert undue influence.

All models of ownership have similar if not worse problems in terms of influence.

It is the principle that might be of interest. The parts of the model which are weak are obvious and could be protected against..

Again, it is only one model..
# G. P. Walrus 2010-11-14 17:49
Good point. That's why I believe cash needs to flow from readers to writers with the platform playing the minimum editorial role necessary.
# kofk 2010-11-14 17:49
J Wil
regarding breakdown. i meant demographic of the readership which is better information for the advertiser

# velofello 2010-11-14 17:52
Stop buying your daily newspaper, send the saved expenditure monthly to Newsnet? A double whammy!
Public awareness of Newsnet is still an issue to resolve. A positive income cashflow would enable Newsnet to advertise on local radio-as an example, Why not Radio Newsnet?
From whom can I purchase Newsnet leaflets to spread around pubic places?
# ScotlandUnspun 2010-11-14 18:09
radio is under consideration.

There's lots of things under consideration and the public domain is not really the best place for such a debate. Can I suggest some patience - there'll be a raft of things to announce in the near future.. Believe me, there's a power of thinking going on!
# Gaavster 2010-11-15 14:19
"From whom can I purchase Newsnet leaflets to spread around pubic places?"

Oo-er velo... that would make for an interesting advertising angle :o)
# ScotlandUnspun 2010-11-14 18:00
Excellent point Walrus.

If you want to see the dynamic in action (but in a different context) then go to: www.piratemyfilm.com/

The bonus of encouraging journos to pitch for work is that you lure them away from the MSM outlets. A very important part of any strategy go democratise the Scottish media.. Going one step further, journalists could buy their own work as an investment in Newsnet's success..

As we seek to educate Scots that it can be a self-sufficient community connecting with the outside world then this model would be practising what we preach..
# G. P. Walrus 2010-11-14 19:36
Interesting link. I await developments on Newsnet with great anticipation!
# kofk 2010-11-14 18:03
i agree with you wholeheartedly no paper sales no readership no advertising revenue, no more unionist biased media, unfortunetly radio advertisings more hit and miss leaflet distribution at all sports stadia local shopping centres, townhalls, train stations bus stations and club notice boards did i miss anything out?
# kofk 2010-11-14 18:07
more info on how you would prefer small regular donations and you can count me in
# ScotlandUnspun 2010-11-14 18:15
hi kofk, great attitude but as said above there are issues regarding donations which is why the paypal button was removed..
# velofello 2010-11-14 18:22
ScotlandUnspun - Fine by me to await your proposals. My concern is of not being sufficiently pro-active such that Labour with the connivence of the BBC and the Scottish (su) Press help Labour to win at Holyrood.
# ScotlandUnspun 2010-11-14 18:35
I'm hoping that there will soon be developments with newsnet which will blow you away. Remember we are volunteers and connected online. It all takes a little bit longer but soon there will be developments.

Meanwhile, if you want to help then if you can advise of good content which can be reproduced here or if you have any interesting research we can turn into article or if you can submit articles yourself then that would help hugely!
# Gill 2010-11-14 21:49
Community reports section? Not the big national picture but feet and ear to the ground stuff, local initiatives and general informative and maybe entertaining pieces from far off and near places in Scotland?
# kofk 2010-11-14 18:26
until the donation thing is sorted out, theres no stopping us from getting plenty xmas goodys delivered to friends from the newsnet shop
# rgweir 2010-11-14 18:37
West lothian anti-cuts campaign.
Sign up now on facebook.
# clanmaclean 2010-11-14 20:06
I have mentioned before on these threads that Newsnet Scotland should consider taking out adverts in the papers. I for one would be more than happy to contribute to an advertising fund or any, share or other initiative that gets Newsnet the publicity and readership it deserves. Have you thought about onlline TV such as Inverness & Fife have?
# hbob 2010-11-14 20:21
I would be prepared to help fund Newsnet as well, admittedly rather modestly, but I would have thought the cumulative effect of many of its supporters could produce a significant fund - obviously not everyone would contribute as I'm sure some of the interested parties on here are unionist journalists keen to see what the truth looks like in the media.
# oldnat 2010-11-14 20:22
The UK Labour Party may well be SLAB's Achilles heel (though the anatomical analogy doesn't work! :-)

"Alan Johnson had told the BBC's Politics Show there was "a very big difference in opinion” over the policy of a graduate tax. The shadow chancellor also said Ed Miliband’s commitment to maintaining the 50p tax rate for higher earners had been made in "in the cut and thrust" of a leadership election, and suggested the policy could be dropped." (Politics Home)

Try selling that idea in Glasgow and the Central Belt!
# Marian 2010-11-14 22:06
Former UK PM Gordon Brown was quoted today as saying "Aung San Suu Kyi irelease proves that no injustice can last forever" and UK PM David Cameron said "Aung San Suu Kyi is an inspiration for all of us who believe in freedom of speech, democracy and human rights."

Mealy mouthed words indeed from the architects of the endemic injustice that is the supression of free speech by the BBC and MSM in Scotland.
# Gill 2010-11-15 01:13
Funnyntheydon'tseeitthatwayap logiesmykeyboar dhasgoneitoxxxx anyhelp?
# sneckedagain 2010-11-15 01:26
The coming thing is online radio which may be the best way for Newsnet to expand and which potentially can contact the whole world
# Whatsinaname 2010-11-15 01:50
Happy to contribute if it helps raise the profile of the site.

The run up to the election seems to be dominated by messages from Labour and there really needs to be an outlet for balanced (read honest) reporting.
# oldnat 2010-11-15 02:12
And that includes criticising the SNP when they screw up too!
# Whatsinaname 2010-11-15 11:56
Indeed, it would be used to discredit any reports if the SNP weren't held to account by Newsnet.
# Robabody 2010-11-15 14:47
# kofk 2010-11-15 02:43
The S.N.P need a progessive message for Scotland. weve not really screwed up yet,(since playing the game) sometimes your comments may be misconstrued by the malcontents that wish to do damamage to this site
# oldnat 2010-11-15 10:21
The message clearly needs repeated. Newsnet Scotland is NOT an SNP site!

It is a news source whose editorial line is pro independence/fiscal autonomy.
# ScotlandUnspun 2010-11-15 10:26
Criticism of all parties is part of what a democratic press does. The SNP have made mistakes and will and those need to be pointed out just as much as every other party's.

It is a matter of pride that this newspaper holds all to account without fear or favour!
# kofk 2010-11-15 02:49
soz , for my spelling mistakes..(progresive)..self determination has been ignorned by our unionist friends
# kofk 2010-11-15 03:00
sorry oldnat, ive been really lazy here, rememember we have a multi trillion argument here,...open the eyes to our mindless sheep... and we will certainly not be short of sheppards.. er by the way can you whistle?
# kofk 2010-11-15 03:11
joking aside Scotlands vast resourses are worth trillions..(money).. of dollars or euros or even yen, or even some new currency that may be just around the corner..supporting the S.N,P is our only hope of fighting,,,,,,
# km 2010-11-15 05:56
Yup, count me in too for a donation and/or share. The next six months are critical, if Labour wins, then Scotland is looking at oblivion. There is so much at stake.

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