John Swinney dragged into expenses row after staff claim visit by ‘stamp fairy’

John Swinney said he was confident public money had not been misused to buy stamps
John Swinney said he was confident public money had not been misused to buy stamps - EMILY MACINNES/BLOOMBERG

John Swinney has been dragged into an SNP election expenses row after one of his staffers joked about the “stamp fairy” helping with campaigning.

The First Minister said on Sunday that he was “confident” public money had not been misused by his party, following allegations stamps bought with expenses had been secretly siphoned off for election mailshots.

Strict rules state MSPs are entitled to claim up to £5,500 per year for stationary, but it must be used only for parliamentary duties.

Stamps and other items bought with the allowance must explicitly not be deployed for any “party political purposes”.

It emerged on Sunday that one SNP staffer had posted in a WhatsApp chat that they had “inherited a lot – and I mean a lot – of second class stamps”.

An individual in Mr Swinney’s office replied: “The stamp fairy is very useful when it comes to campaigns.”

A complaint, apparently from another SNP staffer, suggests stamps had been passed to Westminster candidates to target voters.

Holyrood has launched an inquiry into the possible misuse of parliamentary stationary.

‘Humorous remarks’

First class stamps cost £1.35 each and second class stamps are 85p, meaning they can be a significant expense to political campaigns, who often tailor letters to individual voters based on the information they hold about them.

When challenged on Sunday over the claims, Mr Swinney said he did not believe the SNP had misused stamps but declined to give an explicit guarantee that there had been no wrongdoing.

“I’m confident of that,” the First Minister said, when asked by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg whether he was “completely sure” that public money had not been used for the SNP election campaign.

He said he had discussed the matter with his staff and he had “been assured” that no Holyrood stamps had been used for the election campaign.

Asked to explain who the “stamp fairy” was, Mr Swinney replied: “We campaign on a regular basis in my capacity as a member of parliament. We’re engaging with the public on a countless range of different issues.

“I think these are humorous remarks made in a WhatsApp channel. What’s important is the reassurance that I’ve had, that parliamentary stamps have not been used for election purposes.”

Among those to discuss the issue of stamps in the WhatsApp chat were staffers from the offices of other senior SNP figures, including Nicola Sturgeon.

Asked whether the stamps could be traced, a member of SNP deputy leader Keith Brown’s office said she had “asked Rab in the mailroom and he said no”.

After another person said they were not aware of the stamps being traceable, a staffer for Shirley-Anne Somerville, the social justice secretary, replied: “If they can [be traced] then a few people may be up in front of corporate body.”

‘Serious questions to answer’

The Scottish Parliament corporate body is a cross-party group that takes decisions over parliamentary rules and can investigate alleged breaches of the rules.

The person who made an anonymous complaint to the Scottish Parliament’s presiding officer said they had concerns “several MSPs are using stamps paid for by Scottish parliament expenses to pass to UK parliament election candidates for campaign activities such as sending target letters to hard-to-reach addresses”.

They added: “I’m concerned about this open discussion involving several members’ offices.”

The SNP has said the exchanges in the chat were “obviously light-hearted”, but that it expects those involved to cooperate fully with the investigation.

Craig Hoy, the Scottish Tory chairman, said the SNP had “some serious questions to answer” over the allegations.

“These leaked messages appear to show staff potentially misusing public resources,” he said. “The SNP must be upfront with parliamentary authorities about this situation.”

Dame Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said: “These are deeply concerning allegations and they must [be] investigated fully. The SNP has a long record of failing to treat public money with respect and uphold the standards of transparency we all expect.”

A spokesman for the Scottish parliament said: “We take the use of publicly funded resources very seriously. Officials are investigating the matter to establish whether there has been any misuse of parliamentary resources.”