Souter being ‘extensively courted’ by SNP – report

Brian Souter

Stagecoach founder Brian Souter has been “extensively courted” in recent months by the SNP after distancing himself from the party during Nicola Sturgeon’s time in control, according to a report in Politico.

Souter has been “extensively courted by aides to Sturgeon’s successor Humza Yousaf” who enlisted Souter to help organize a dinner “meant to repair ties between government and business,” according to the report.

Souter was formerly one of the SNP’s largest donors, but stopped donating to the party after Sturgeon replaced Alex Salmond as leader and first minister.

Politico cited “documents released under freedom of information law” as a source of its information.

According to the Politico report: “The newly disclosed emails show the Scottish first minister’s senior advisers liaised with Souter when arranging the gathering in Edinburgh last summer.

“Souter agreed to help ‘nudge’ other business figures to attend …

“The exchanges suggest warming relations between Yousaf’s office and Souter, but it could raise eyebrows in some parts of the SNP tribe …

“The email chain, dated to June and July 2023, came after Yousaf met Souter at Scotland’s annual National Prayer Breakfast, a religious event the businessman organizes in June.

“It shows that Yousaf’s chief of staff Colin McAllister engaged in a lengthy back and forth with an aide to Souter on the subject of a possible dinner last summer amid efforts to reset frayed relations with the business sector.

“In the exchanges, McAllister suggested a list of potential invitees for the dinner to an aide from Souter’s Souter Investments Ltd company, who replied that ‘Brian is happy with the proposed list below.’

“The senior Yousaf aide then said Souter ‘offered to reach out to some people’ regarding the dinner …

“The event — billed by Yousaf’s team as a ‘Business Leaders Dinner’ — eventually went ahead on July 27 last summer, at the luxury Prestonfield House.

“Yousaf, his Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray, Souter, the former media proprietor Ellis Watson and the senior special adviser are all listed as attending alongside nine other figures whose names were redacted.

“The email exchanges show that Souter’s aide also offered to try to book the luxury hotel on the Scottish government’s behalf, which was politely declined by McAllister.

“Under his leadership, Yousaf has sought to reach out to Scottish firms, some of whom fell out of love with the party under Sturgeon …

“According to Scottish government minutes circulated after the dinner, Yousaf told those present that ‘engagement with business has already highlighted the need to involve business more effectively in policy.’

“The business leaders were invited to ‘raise issues with FM and his wider ministerial team in the future’.”

Politico said that asked about the dinner, a Scottish government spokesperson said “ministers routinely engage with a wide range of business leaders as a normal part of government.”