A MYSTERY donor gave £46,000 to Unionist campaigners on a mission to “get the SNP voted out of power and end the danger of independence” at this year’s Scottish Parliament election, the Sunday National can reveal.

The donor has no website and is registered to a central London address used by a PO Box provider – and is the subject of fresh “dark money” questions about who is funding attempts to influence the outcome of elections.

Willie Sullivan (below), senior director of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said: “Openness and transparency are the key foundations for any democracy. As long as there are unanswered questions over who funds our politics faith in the system will continue to falter.”

The National: Willie Sullivan.

The Sunday National could find no phone number or email address for the group, which is listed with the Electoral Commission as the “Centre for Economic education and Training” [sic].

While many projects with similar names exist, there seems to be no footprint for this organisation outwith Electoral Commission records linked to these donations.

As an unincorporated association, it doesn’t file with Companies House and there’s no record of who is behind it. Its given address of 95 Mortimer Street is in Oxford Circus, one of the most expensive parts of London, where commercial rents run to around £8000 per month. There’s a clinic and estate agency listed there as well as a letterbox firm which offers businesses the chance to use the address for as little as £10 per month.

But it did manage to make two separate donations of £21,000 and £25,000 to Scotland Matters in the official pre-election period this spring.

Scotland Matters is registered with the elections watchdog as a non-party campaigner and was one of seven such groups to have its donations and spending records published this week. The publication covered reported spending of £250,000 or less at the May election and all but one of the groups were pro-Union campaigns. At £56,265, Scotland Matters spent more than any other.

Its stated mission is “to get the SNP voted out of power and remove the threat of independence” and, as part of this, it has levelled corruption and collusion allegations at Yes parties the SNP, Scottish Greens and Alba.

The National: Vaccination not Separation billboard.

Its website states that it aims to win over voters by a strategy that includes making “a fact-based positive case for remaining in the UK” and distributing “undeniable, verifiable evidence against separatism”.

ITS website further lists its steering committee as including “the Grampian Leaders of Better Together: Ian Lakin, Professor Hugh Pennington, Councillor Marion Ewenson, Lesley Milne, Maggie and Mark Openshaw and Allan Sutherland” – and erected a billboard in Greenock, Inverclyde, in February which challenged Nicola Sturgeon’s record on Covid, stating “vaccination not separation” and “do your job, First Minister”.

That was launched a few days after it emerged that Scotland was vaccinating at a faster rate than any other European country.

Scotland Matters also acted with fellow pro-Union campaigns The Majority, UK Union Voice and 250 donors on a “#ResignSturgeon” ad drive in March, placing material on mobile ad vans and paying to have a banner flown behind a small aircraft.

More recently, Scotland Matters’s messaging has focused on the SNP’s climate record.

The Sunday National contacted the organisation seeking clarity over the donation, and asking if the team recognised the concerns expressed by reform campaigners.

A response stated: “We are confident that Scotland Matters has provided all the required donor information to the Electoral Commission.”

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However, ERS Scotland head Sullivan said: “As the role of third-party campaigners continues to grow their influence is being felt more clearly than ever before. But shady funding practices are making it more difficult for voters to know who lies behind the campaigns they see and harder to ensure spending limits are not breached.

“Dark money cannot be allowed to shape politics in Scotland – it’s vital that our campaign laws shine a light on who is behind big donations like this and where the money comes from. An anonymous postal address and an untraceable business name is not enough.

“Until our outdated election laws are brought up to date, voters will always be left in the dark about money in our politics and rightful questions asked about the whether the system really works in the interests of the people it claims to serve.”

There have been several dark money donations rows in Scotland in recent years. Last year it emerged that the shadowy Scottish Unionist Association Trust (SUAT), another unincorporated association, had handed over almost £22,450 to the Scottish Conservatives in the run-up to the 2019 General Election. A probe by The Ferret established that the body had given the Tories £318,876 between 2001 and 2018.

Outwith Scotland, work by openDemocracy found that Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has accepted as much as £2.6 million in donations from sources with anonymous funders since he entered Downing Street. Of this, more than £800,000 was in direct donations to individual Tory MPs and their local parties.

And in July, the Commons’s cross-party Committee on Standards in Public Life warned that unincorporated associations are a “weak point” in the elections rules and could be a “route for foreign money to influence UK elections”, recommending reform of the system.

Reacting to the latest revelations, Scottish Greens finance spokesperson Ross Greer said: “We’ve seen plenty of dubious donations to the Conservative Party in recent years, but these donations to supposedly non-party Unionist organisations follow the worrying pattern of dark lobbying in American politics, and we’ve seen how utterly corrosive that has been.

“Voters deserve to know who is paying for the messages they are seeing, so they can make an informed decision at the ballot box. Otherwise, our democracy is seriously undermined.”