Page last updated at 17:32 GMT, Thursday, 20 December 2007

Salmond attack on Trump critics

Alex Salmond
Mr Salmond said Mr Stephen should apologise

First Minister Alex Salmond has attacked Lib Dem leader Nicol Stephen over his criticism of the handling of the Donald Trump golf application.

Mr Stephen said the government's involvement with the 1bn Aberdeenshire golf resort plan "smelled of sleaze".

Urging him to apologise to civil servants, Mr Salmond said Mr Stephen was now unelectable in the north east.

Ministers will have the final say on the plans after they were rejected by the local council.

Scotland's top civil servant, Sir John Elvidge, said that all civil servants involved in the application had obeyed the rules.

He said the chief planner, Jim McKinnon, had assured him that he had at no time been instructed to act improperly.

I believe that the irresponsible attitude of Nicol Stephen and some others makes his position unelectable in the north east of Scotland
Alex Salmond
First minister

Mr Stephen refused to be drawn on whether he would apologise, and instead claimed that the first minister was trying to divert attention with a "tidal wave of abuse".

Concerns were raised following a series of events surrounding the application - including that, on the day ministers called in the application, Mr Trump's team was present at the start of a phone call with Mr McKinnon and Aberdeenshire Council.

The government later said members of the Trump organisation were in the room with Mr McKinnon at the start of the first of two phone conversations, but not when the discussion took place.

At a press conference in Edinburgh, Mr Salmond again defended his role in the affair, as written answers by the Scottish Government to 54 parliamentary questions were made public.

'Extreme language'

The first minister said Mr Stephen should apologise to Mr McKinnon "without question".

"An apology will be achieved at some point and I suspect Mr Stephen should do it sooner rather than later," he said.

"I believe that the irresponsible attitude of Nicol Stephen and some others makes his position unelectable in the north east of Scotland.

"I think the language used has been extreme and I think he shall regret that course of action."

Donald Trump swinging a golf club
Ministers will have the final say on Mr Trump's plans

Concerns were also raised after it emerged that Mr Salmond met Mr Trump's representatives the day before ministers decided to "call in" the golf resort plans, following its rejection by Aberdeenshire Council's infrastructure committee.

The first minister is forbidden from taking part in the planning process but insisted that he was duty bound to meet people on all sides because the plans for two championship golf courses, 950 holiday homes and 36 golf villas fell into his Gordon constituency.

The controversy spilled over to question time at Holyrood, where Labour Leader Wendy Alexander raised concern that, on the day of Mr Salmond's meeting with the Trump representatives, he then called the chief planner "to secure for them a meeting the following day".

Mr Mackinnon confirmed officials could meet with parties involved - but only to discuss options and procedural implications and not consider the merits of the case.

Ms Alexander asked: "Do you still maintain that this was merely the routine action of a constituency MSP, or is it really a misuse of the position of first minister?"

Mr Salmond repeated Sir John's finding that civil servants had "acted with total propriety".

Mr Stephen told BBC Scotland: "This tidal wave of abuse is clearly to divert attention.

"I support the Trump proposal. I think it's a good proposal for the north east of Scotland, but it's got to be treated in the same way as all other planning applications.

"If that doesn't happen, it could be prejudiced."

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