Lottery winners give millions to Scotland independence campaign

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A lottery-winning couple accounted for almost 80 per cent of the £3.15m donated to the campaign for Scottish independence in the past year, organisers have revealed.

The long-awaited details of donations to the cross-party Yes Scotland campaign highlight the impact on Scotland’s referendum debate being made by Chris and Colin Weir, long-time supporters of the Scottish National party who in 2011 won a £161m jackpot in the EuroMillions lottery. The Weirs gave £2.5m to Yes Scotland between April last year and this month.

The Ayrshire couple had already given Yes Scotland a combined £1m after it was established in 2012 and their continued generosity has dramatically boosted the campaign’s ability to pay for staff, campaign materials and advertising.

Without them, Yes Scotland would have been at a severe funding disadvantage to Better Together, the cross-party campaign against independence. Better Together said in December that it had received £2.8m since it was founded.

Better Together seized on the Weir donations to accuse Yes Scotland of being “little more than a front for [Scottish first minister] Alex Salmond's SNP”.

Blair McDougall, campaign director, said: “Whilst Better Together relies on the support of a broad mixture of large donors and thousands of ordinary people giving what they can, it is clear that the nationalists are almost completely dependent on one source of income.”

Apart from the Weirs’ contribution, Yes Scotland reported £178,000 in donations from supporters who gave more than £7,500 and a total of £473,000 from more than 11,000 people who gave smaller amounts.

Amid growing anxiety about a narrowing of the pro-union lead in opinion polls, the UK government has published a new booklet summarising the case against independence that will be distributed to voters and organisations across Scotland.

“By voting in September to stay in the United Kingdom we can continue to achieve more together than we would apart,” says the booklet, which seeks to summarise the benefits of the UK laid out in a series of expansive analysis papers released by government ministries.

The narrowing polls have heightened concerns that the referendum campaign could create lasting divisions in Scottish society. In a letter to Scottish newspapers last week, the Weirs called for an end to “smears and personal attacks” on both sides.

“On September 19, irrespective of the outcome, we all have to live together,” they said. “That will only be possible if both sides of the campaign, the politicians and the media take responsibility for their behaviour and language in the next few months.” 

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