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May 15, 2014 3:40 pm
A couple who won more than £160m on the lottery have made an additional donation to the Scottish National party of £1m, bringing their total contribution to the SNP and to Scotland’s campaign for independence to £5.5m.
Figures published by the Electoral Commission on Thursday show Chris and Colin Weir each gave £500,000 to the SNP in the first quarter of the year – almost all the party’s income from donations during the period.
It was revealed on Sunday that Mr and Mrs Weir, who won £161m on the EuroMillions lottery, gave £2.5m to the Yes Scotland pro-independence campaign. They have given £5.5m to the SNP and the Yes campaign over the past three years, contributing three-quarters of the campaign’s income and making them among Britain’s biggest political donors.
The donations come against a backdrop of complaints from pro-unionists that they are being outspent. Blair McDougall, the head of the cross-party Better Together campaign, said last month: “Without access to the resources that the nationalists have, we are the underdogs.”
But pro-unionists hope the gap between the two sides will soon end: campaign rules that limit spending will apply from the end of this month. For 16 weeks, neither campaign will be allowed to spend more than £1.5m, but other groups will be allowed to spend £150,000, meaning additional spending could be funnelled through affiliates.
The Electoral Commission figures show that Michael Hintze, a hedge fund manager, has given £1.5m to the Conservative party, 10 times more than any previous single gift.
Sir Michael, founder of the CQS fund, hit the headlines when it emerged in 2011 he had helped finance the activities of a close associate of Liam Fox, then defence secretary, while making investments in the defence industry. The revelations ended in Mr Fox’s resignation from the cabinet.
Since then, Sir Michael has made relatively small donations to the party, the largest being £25,000 in October. He has also given money to Conservative-affiliated bodies, such as a climate sceptic think-tank founded by Nigel Lawson, the Conservative former chancellor.
Sir Michael announced last week he is giving £5m to the Natural History Museum.
His donation to the Conservative party helped its donations reach more than £6.6m in the first three months of the year, considerably more than the £4.4m received by Labour.
Labour’s biggest donors remain trade unions, with the Unite union giving more than £1.8m.
Labour has endured difficult relations with its biggest backer in recent months: Len McCluskey, the union’s general secretary, has warned he could sever links and has tried to push Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, towards a more leftwing economic strategy.
However, Mr McCluskey has continued to back Mr Miliband and Unite remains Labour’s largest donor. It gave nearly three times as much as the next highest, the Usdaw union.
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