T-in the Park sequence of ministerial touch-ups reveals the wonga extraction strategy

Jennifer Dempsie, an SNP insider – former PR adviser to former First Minister, Alex Salmond MSP, partner of the SNP’s titular  Westminster Leader, Angus Robertson and prospective parliamentary candidate for the SNP in the Highlands and Islands Regional List in the May 2015 Scottish Election – also worked for a period for DF Concerts, promoter of the annual T-in the Park music festival in Perthshire.

In that latter capacity and intensively farming the contacts and access accruing from her core political affiliation and experience, Ms Dempsie is now known to have set up a series of four meetings between Scottish Government ministers and Geoff Ellis of DF concerts.

Of the four ministerial meetings arranged, three of them were at Cabinet Secretary level and one of these was with the Deputy First Minister and Finance Secretary.

The purpose of the meetings is seen in its end result – the payment of £150,000 of public money to a profit making private sector company already a comfortable £9 million in the black.

The money was paid three weeks after the event – but, when it became public knowledge, was said to have been to support the festival in its change of venue from Balado in Kinross to Strathallan in Perthshire.

The chronological sequence distilled from information in the public domain shows just how strategic was the Dempsie management of the series of meetings with those whose hands are on the major lever of government – the lock on the till.

First target, on 13th March 2015, was South Perthshire and Kinross MSPS, and Cabinet Secretary for Skills, Roseanna Cunningham in whose constituency T-in the Park had been located at Balado.

Next up, on 27th March, was the big bazooka, North Perthshire MSP – with Strathallan in that county if not in that constituency, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney – so many boxes ticked in a single meeting.

Then, on 31st March, came Transport Minister, Derek Mackay MSP, formerly a member of the Finance Committee and formerly the SNP’s Business Convener and Parliamentary Liaison Officer to the the Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business and Government Strategy – a man who knows a lot about the inside workings of government.

Finally, on 28th May, with the streams from the previous meetings brought together and all the ducks lined up, the final cincher – Fiona ‘Where’s my champagne’ Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs – and glad dispenser of the £150k.

The nature of the game has always been clear – farming privileged contacts with consent for personal advantage.

But the final responsibility is not Ms Dempsie’s. She exercised inappropriate influence for private gain – DR Concerts ‘and, in many ways, arguably her own but exercising the influence never has to guarantee success.

The hurdle of impropriety- a low one – was jumped by the ministers concerned and the buck stopped with Fiona Hyslop who happily shelled out  public money for no demonstrable good reason.

Of course the use of a willingly cosy insider network for the financial gain of a successful and profitable public sector company is unacceptable and brings recoil.

But the real question, which has been obvious for years and which no one asks because she does so little of any substance that she stays comfortably below the parapet – is: What is Fiona Hyslop for?

Answers on an old Sim card.

 

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