SCOTLAND in Union has been accused of attempting to “bully” the Electoral Commission over a probe into its finances, as the anti-independence group desperately tries to keep the names of its big-money donors secret.

The organisation fears it may have to release details of some of the wealthy Unionists who spent thousands at an auction last year.

Correspondence between Scotland in Union and the Electoral Commission revealed under Freedom of Information to The Herald, reveals an organisation in chaos over spending rules.

The boss of the organisation during the General Election campaign was Graeme Pearson, a former Labour MSP and police officer, who headed the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency.

He was replaced by Pamela Nash in August last year.

According to the documents, the group spent £73,000 on last year’s snap election – despite a spending limit of £55,000. It was accused by the commission of not declaring a spending return, although the watchdog said it has decided no to pursue the case “given that the unexpected nature of the election meant that the spending rules applied retrospectively”.

The documents were released as a former Scotland in Union official was hauled in by Police Scotland over an investigation into stolen donor data leaked to pro-independence media, including The National, and Wings Over Scotland.

David Clews was interviewed by Glasgow City Centre CID yesterday afternoon. Over the weekend, in a drug squad-like bust, his house was raided, with six officers, armed with a battering ram and a search warrant bursting in and taking away all electronic devices and even Clews’s wife’s mobile phone.

“I have nothing to say about the investigation, but to have six police officers come to your door with a battering ram ... it was a traumatic experience for my wife and my eight-month-old,” Clews told The National.

The “Scotland in Union data dump” contained the size of donations, along with names, addresses, phone numbers, gossip, and details of family relationships.

The files contain the names, addresses, emails, home and mobile phone numbers of hundreds of supporters. According to one spreadsheet which details donations made to the group over the past few years, about 14 which passed the Electoral Commission’s limit of £7500.

Of these, 12 were made in the run-up to the last two General Elections and the last Holyrood Election, during what’s known as the regulated period, when donations are supposed to be declared.

The National is restricted in what it can say about the names on the list. Strict data protection laws could lead to criminal charges.

But the Freedom of Information release shows that Scotland in Union was seemingly unaware of the rules.

In an email to the commission, Nash asked about the “dates during which it is required that non-party campaigners report their donations over a certain value for the General Election 2017”.

“I understand this to be 3rd May 2017 to 8th June 2017.”

In fact, the reporting period for a General Election is a year before the polling date, meaning Scotland in Union has to declare any donations towards campaigning between June 9, 2016, and June 8, 2017. Its big-money auction was on September 15 2016.

Guests at the £250-a-head meal included Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor; Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish LibDems; and Andrew Dunlop, under-secretary of state for Scotland.

Diners were offered the chance to bid thousands on prizes including a stay in a luxury chalet in the Swiss Alps. The auction guide described the prize as “a fabulous chalet and a family home, with six bedrooms sleeping 12, all en suite.”

It added: “Although the chalet does not come with a chalet girl, we will provide one for you.”

Other prizes included a four-day “extravaganza of polo and amazing parties in Jodhpur for two ... rubbing shoulders with the maharajah” and a “holiday of a lifetime” at a private game reserve in Botswana for 10 people.

The dinner raised an estimated £300,000.

There appears to be a grey area in the Electoral Commission’s rules. If donations are not specifically for “regulated campaign activity” but rather for “general purposes” then they may not have to be declared.

But the activities funded by those donations have to pass the purpose and public test – is the group trying to influence voters to vote for or against political parties or categories of candidates, and are the activities aimed at, seen or heard by, or do they involve the public?

SIU argues that the money raised was not donated for the specific purpose of election campaigning.

However, in a statement to The Herald, the commission said it was reviewing SIU’s case.

It said: “We consider and assess possible breaches of the rules consistent with our published enforcement policy and we are reviewing the matter.”

Nash complained to Bob Posner, the Electoral Commission’s director of political finance and regulation and legal counsel, saying that statement was “misleading”.

Posner, in an email to commission colleagues, said: “[Pamela Nash] considers that we should have responded to her email today and that our media line today is misleading.

“I explained that we are not obliged to provide an advice service by immediate responses ... also that our media line is not misleading, it is in fact accurate, irrespective of her concern on how some elements of the media might choose to report matters.

“I also corrected her assertion that we had been speaking proactively to the media, explaining that our comms team had simply responded to a media query received.

“PN thought we should apologise for not responding to her email and our media line.

“I said I could not see that was appropriate as we are doing our job as regulator in a normal way.

“PN said she might or would complain further. I said we have a complaints process. I said I respected her concerns, but I doubted I would be able to allay them from her perspective. I said we were not responsible for how the media accurately or otherwise report matters. The line went dead at PN’s end.”

SNP MSP George Adam said: “This memo suggests Scotland in Union sought to bully and intimidate the independent Electoral Commission, which was simply looking into legitimate concerns over donations and book-keeping.

“The commission is there as a watchdog to ensure that political funding is properly regulated in accordance with the rules. This sort of browbeating of an independent body carrying out its job is inappropriate at best, if not downright sinister.

“Clearly the concerns raised, however uncomfortable for Scotland in Union, must be properly reviewed. It’s remarkable that Labour and the Tories can continue to align themselves with such a discredited, and frankly unpleasant, arch-Unionist front.”

A Scotland in Union spokesman said: “This is another pathetic misrepresentation of the facts by the SNP. As you would expect, we have regular and constructive dialogue with the Electoral Commission to ensure we comply with its guidelines.”

Scotland in Union could face a significant fine for allowing the data to be stolen.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has the power to issue fines of up to £500,000.

Last year, the insurance firm RSA was fined £150,000 after allowing a digital copy of 60,000 customer files to be stolen from a supposedly secure room.