A SECRETIVE right-wing Unionist organisation with links to the former director general of the Saudi intelligence service is preparing to funnel hundreds of thousands of pounds into campaigns opposing Scottish independence.
According to The Herald, The National’s sister paper, the Constitutional Research Council (CRC), which is chaired by former Scottish Conservative candidate Richard Cook, is looking to invest in “credible Unionist groups” in the event of a second independence referendum.
Yesterday, the CRC were also outed as the “shadowy” donors behind a payment of £425,000 to Northern Ireland’s DUP during the EU referendum. That money was then used to buy Brexit supporting adverts during last June’s campaign throughout the whole of the UK, including a £280,000 four-page advert in the Metro, a newspaper not available in Northern Ireland.
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One of the hangovers of the Troubles is that donations to political parties can be made in secret as fear of reprisal was once a reality.
Cook reportedly formed the CRC out of frustration at how Better Together operated in the 2014 vote.
He told The Herald: “In reality, Better Together’s campaign at the last independence referendum suppressed the pro-Union vote due largely to it having adopted an overwhelmingly negative approach as to why Scotland shouldn’t be independent, rather than evangelically being for the Union and selling its benefits to Scotland, and Scotland’s benefits to the rest of the UK. If there is to be a second independence referendum the next pro-Union campaign needs to be a ‘better Better Together’, talking about how Scotland benefits from its place in the Union, how we’re progressive, outward looking people and how there’s a positive future for the United Kingdom which makes every part of it better.”
According to the openDemocracy website, Cook, who stood against Jim Murphy in Eastwood in the 2010 General Election, founded a company called Five Star Investment Management Ltd with the former head of the Saudi Arabian intelligence agency, Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz.
Five Star Investment Management was registered at Cook’s Glasgow address and listed as one of its other three initial shareholders HRH Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz, whose address is given as a palace in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, according to filings at Companies House.
The firm filed no accounts with Companies House, and was dissolved in December 2014.
Cook has had other business dealings abroad. In 2012, the BBC reported that through his company, Cook Consulting (UK) Ltd, he was involved in a £640 million deal with the Port Qasim Authority in Pakistan. However, the company had dissolved by June 2015, and did not file any accounts with Companies House.
“This shadowy group exploited a loophole to anonymously fund a campaign that now threatens to drag Scotland out of Europe against our will – and they did this purely as they believed it would be bad for independence.
“Now they’re promising to bankroll the anti-independence campaign in any future referendum. Unfortunately for them, they won’t be able to funnel money through Northern Irish politicians to remain anonymous.”
“I believe the Scottish Government is thinking very, very seriously about going for an independence referendum next year,” said Charles Grant, an adviser to the Scottish Government’s Standing Council on Europe.
One senior Scottish politician, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “If you don’t call [an independence vote] now, it’s off the cards for a generation.”