Page last updated at 16:20 GMT, Thursday, 13 December 2007

SNP Trump move 'smells of sleaze'

Alex Salmond

The Scottish government's involvement in Donald Trump's Aberdeenshire golf resort plan "smells of sleaze", the Liberal Democrats have claimed.

The accusation came as Aberdeenshire Council confirmed it had a phone call with the government's chief planner when Mr Trump's team was there.

Ministers will have the final say on whether the 1bn proposals for the Menie Estate get the go-ahead.

First Minister Alex Salmond said he had followed the rules "to the letter".

The government decided to "call in" the plans for the Menie Estate the same day that its chief planner, Jim McKinnon, held talks with Mr Trump's team, to explain the role of Scottish ministers in planning applications and appeals.

Every step of the way there is contradiction, concealment and cleverness
Nicol Stephen
Liberal Democrat leader

The proposals had been narrowly rejected by Aberdeenshire councillors.

During question time at Holyrood, Mr Salmond also came under pressure for meeting with Mr Trump's representatives.

He is forbidden from taking part in the planning process and has insisted that, because the plans fell into his Gordon constituency, he was duty bound to meet people on all sides.

Liberal Democrat leader Nicol Stephen said: "This is a serious situation for the first minister and his government. Every step of the way there is contradiction, concealment and cleverness from his government on this issue. It smells of sleaze."

Mr Salmond told MSPs that he was not present at the discussion between the council and Mr McKinnon, adding: "Its not my responsibility. I am debarred from any decision-making in the planning process. Why on earth would I therefore know the answer to that question since I was not in the room or with the chief planner at the time."

Annabel Goldie, the Tory leader, added: "Astonishingly, as first minister, he was not even-handed, he was cack-handed.

"Either this is ignorance or arrogance and ignorance is not a condition with which I associate the first minister."

Donald Trump swinging a golf club
Mr Trump's plans had been rejected by councillors

Mr Salmond said he had attended his meeting with team Trump along with his local constituency secretary, adding: "It is crystal clear that I attended the meeting as a constituency member of parliament."

On Wednesday, the councillor whose casting vote saw Mr Trump's plans rejected, Martin Ford, was sacked as the chairman of the infrastructure committee at an emergency meeting of Aberdeenshire Council.

In a statement, the council's chief executive Alan Campbell said he had conducted two phone calls with the chief planner on the afternoon of 4 December.

"The first call was about the procedure which Aberdeenshire Council were likely to adopt at their special meeting. It was in that context that the chief executive was informed by the chief planner that members of the Trump organisation were in the chief planner's room.

"The chief executive asked that they leave the room. The discussion then took place."

The council said Mr Campbell received a call from the chief planner several hours later on the issue of ministers calling in the application, adding: "There was no question of the Trump organisation being with the chief planner at that time."

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