Douglas Ross: Britannia’s Snake-Oil Salesman


This article isn’t just for those interested in Scottish independence. To quote Alasdair Gray, this article is “For All Independent Minds”. This is for all those that not only wish to understand, but also to mobilise against, the leviathan Conservative Party financial apparatus and the corrosive influence it has on our politics, and our futures. As Ryan & Geoghegan state:

Democracy depends on transparency. Unless voters know who is funding their politicians, how can they assess whether they are bending to the interests of those who are bankrolling them? Unless we have a clear idea of who funds the leaflets coming through our letterboxes and the Facebook adverts telling us who to vote for, why should we read them?

This article is about exposing what George Monbiot calls the “Infrastructure of Persuasion” and giving you a real-time working example of how it works, and in whose interests. Monbiot states that the purpose of this nexus of think-tanks, lobby groups and obfuscated donors “is to supplant civic power with the power of money.” As Lord Razzall disclosed:

“You are also subject to the 80/20 or even 90/10 rule: 80 to 90 per cent of your money will come from 10 to 20 per cent of your supporters.”

By our conclusion we hope to have illustrated just what power, and who’s money, has helped propel Douglas Ross to Leader of the Scottish Conservatives. We also hope to show you the insidious influence of the Tory dark money network on UK politics as a whole and provide a template that all activists can use to call out all politicians that answer to the money, not the many.

DOUGLAS ROSS

Douglas Ross and his Conservative Party handlers have clearly been studying the Optics Theory of political brand strategy and PR. Ross has presented himself to the media as the rugged individualist of the Conservative Party seeking to detoxify the brand in Scotland by creating a defined gap, of personality if not policy, between himself and the Westminster Party, led by Boris Johnson.

Ross proclaims “I’ve taken what people would describe as sometimes rebellious positions because I believe they were absolutely the right decisions to be taken for the people I was representing at the time.”

Scotland Secretary Alister Jack proclaims “He’s his own man.”

Katy Balls in The Spectator proclaims “Ross has shown previously that he doesn’t mind risking the wrath of 10 Downing Street… “ and that in his relationship with Boris Johnson “distance is an asset”.

However.

No matter how much distance Ross puts between himself and the electorally carcinogenic figure of Johnson, he remains deeply embedded in the traditions of the Conservatives, in particular the cancerous system of elite patronage that has defined his Party, and its politics, for centuries.

Firstly, his voting records show that he has in fact “hardly ever rebelled” against his Party in the House of Commons. For example, Ross has voted against equal rights for the LGBTQ community and same-sex marriage. He has consistently voted against measures to prevent climate change as well as voting against the UK remaining within the EU. Ross is on record as generally voting against any proposed laws promoting equality and human rights,

In a 2017 interview with Core Politics, Ross was asked “If you were Prime Minister for a day, without any repercussions, what would you do?”. He replied “I would like to see tougher enforcement against Gypsy travellers”. We feel no need to comment further!

Our research suggests that Douglas “his own man” Ross is turning his constituency on the North Coast of Scotland into the Snake-Oil capital of the UK. He claims he works for the people of Moray and Scotland, and that as Conservative leader he has placed the best interests of us all at the heart of their agenda.

This article will show you who’s man he really is.

THE OWNED MAN, NOT HIS OWN MAN?

(Methodology: Donors are cross-referenced between those registered on the Electoral Commission site as donating to Douglas Ross or to the Moray Constituency Conservative Party since his election as MP in 2017. Additional verification from here. Donations in bold are total amount of donations to Douglas Ross since 2017)

(Disclaimer: We make no suggestion of impropriety or illegality in any of these donations, we are merely highlighting the network of establishment interests and vast amounts of money invested in Douglas Ross and his Constituency Party.)

JOHN S. MARTIN: £10,000

Source: Courtesy of Bing Creative Commons.

Firstly, an exclusive!

On his Register of Interest Douglas Ross has included a John S. Martin as “support linked to an MP, but received by a local party organisation or indirectly via a central party organisation”. He has donated to Moray twice, in 2017 and 2019.

As far as we are aware, there are currently no other articles or references to John S. Martin in relation to Douglas Ross, or to general political donations to the Scottish or Central Conservative Parties. Until now he has been just a name on the register of interests.

Not anymore.

John S. Martin is registered as donating a total of £141,050 to the Conservatives since 2014. Our initial search provided no obvious donors named John S. Martin in Moray (or Scotland for that matter) so we had a look at the only other constituency he is registered as donating to directly, Beaconsfield. The newly elected Conservative MP for Beaconsfield is Joy Morrissey.

And we got lucky!

John Stephen Martin is a Director of The Martin-Baker Aircraft Company, specifically mentioned by Joy Morrissey in Parliament, and situated in her Beaconsfield constituency.

Specialising in ejector seats for aircraft, Martin-Baker has a long (and very lucrative) history in the aerospace industry. John and his twin brother James are ranked 186th on the Times Rich List 2020 with an estimated fortune of £753 Million. On the Campaign Against The Arms Trade website, the company is documented as a regular attendee of Arms Fairs and of supplying seats to 93 air forces around the world. They have provided seats for the Eurofighter Typhoon (currently deployed by Saudi Arabia against civilians in Yemen) and for the F-35 Aircraft currently in service with the Israeli air force.

Martin-Baker as a company have been intermittent Conservative donors in Beaconsfield and St Albans, registering £22,500 since 2009.

So, the question is, why would the Director of an aerospace company, in the South of England, donate to a constituency 600 miles away in the North of Scotland? Whilst looking at Douglas Ross’s voting record we came across this:

Between 2017 and December last year, Douglas Ross has submitted 15 written questions regarding Aircraft Safety and Procurement, as well as the Poseidon MRA MK1 aircraft, a fleet of which are now based at RAF Lossiemouth, in Moray. This question we’ve highlighted below, was submitted on the 16/01/18, in between the two donations Martin made to Ross’s constituency. The MK10A is a seat manufactured by Martin-Baker.

We submitted a FOI request to the Ministry of Defence on 19/02/21 requesting to see Mark Lancaster’s response, and for details on Martin-Baker’s involvement with the MOD and Lossiemouth since 2016. We also asked to see any contracts between Martin-Baker Ltd and the MOD, as the only one on record, a £12,000,000 deal for ejector seats for the Hawk T2, dates from 2015.

The MOD replied on 11/03/21. Regarding the first part of our inquiry into Mark Lancaster’s response they stated that “under Section 12 (Cost Compliance), we will not be able to answer your request without exceeding the appropriate cost limit…These records are currently stored within 26 large boxes and, in order to locate the specific information requested, the content of all 26 boxes would need to be searched manually to identify the relevant material.”

Regarding the second part of our inquiry regarding contracts between Martin-Baker and the MOD they stated that “it may be possible to provide you with some information were you to submit a further request. That said, I should make you aware that some information, including contracts under negotiation, may be withheld under
Section 43 of the Act, if it is deemed to be commercially sensitive.”

Turns out information is only free up to a certain point.

Lossiemouth and the surrounding area have recently benefitted from significant Government (MOD)  and corporate investment with the arrival of a fleet of new aircraft (Poseidon MK1) and the maintenance of existing fleets such as the Eurofighter Typhoons. Both models of aircraft have Martin-Baker components.

There is also the Moray Growth Deal. This joint initiative between the Scottish and UK Governments, along with private investors, will see £100 Million invested in Moray. This includes the new £33 Million Moray Aerospace, Advanced Technology and Innovation Campus (MAATIC) which will “work with both the RAF and private partners”.

We submitted a FOISA request on 1/2/21 to the project coordinators of MAATIC to ascertain if Martin-Baker are involved as one of these private partners/sponsors/investors.

A representative of Moray College, part of the University of The Highlands and Islands responded on the 1/3/21. They stated that:

Currently the MAATIC project has no official sponsors/partners or investors from the private sector….We are beginning/continuing productive discussions with several companies who are either involved in supporting the Aviation Academy aspirations of the MAATIC Project or who have all expressed an interest in being involved with both the Aviation Academy and the Advanced Technology Institute…. Investment to date has mainly been one of support and advice.

To be clear, nothing about either of Martin’s donations is illegal under current UK regulations on political financing.

What we are asking is, what logical conclusions can be drawn from the fact that John S Martin, the Director of an aerospace company, has invested £10,000 of his personal fortune in the Moray constituency? Is it a coincidence that Moray is where the Lossiemouth aircraft base is situated? Why not invest in other constituencies where the RAF has bases apart from his home constituency of Beaconsfield (RAF Northolt)?

In the case of Locke and Laing, (donors to Ross detailed in Appendix I), they are millionaire landowners in the North East, so would naturally vote for the party of the landowner. Stalbury Trustees, SUAT and The Carlton Club (mentioned below) are all organisations that deploy their wealth solely in “The promotion of the Conservative Party, the Conservative cause, and Conservative Principles and policies”.

So why Moray for Martin?

We requested comment from John S. Martin through the media relations contact at Martin-Baker on 10/2/21 (See Appendix II).

We have received no response at time of publication.

SCOTTISH UNIONIST ASSOCIATION TRUST: £12,500

Author's own image.
The registered address for the Scottish Unionist Association Trust, Glasgow.

An in-depth analysis of the opaque funding habits of this dark money Trust can be found in Jamie Mann’s excellent coverage in The Ferret, available here. SUAT are registered as donating £426,489 to the Conservatives, although as Mann suggests, due to a lack of financial transparency from the Trust, the true figure is impossible to obtain. The SUAT were fined  in 2018 by the Electoral Commission for “failing to notify the commission of political contributions made as an unincorporated association”.

Mann lays the groundwork by exposing Robert Miller-Bakewell, who he identifies as the SUAT Chairman. The logical next step for us was to investigate Miller-Bakewell further and scrutinise his two associates. What we found was a sleeper cell of persuasion lurking in a quiet corner of the Scottish Borders, a hitherto unlikely spot for the intersection of political think-tanks, lobbyists and the Conservative financial machine.

So.

The current Chairman of the SUAT Board of Trustees is Robert Miller-Bakewell. He is a former Deputy Chairman of the Scottish Border Conservatives. He has been specifically condemned by HMRC as a “deliberate tax defaulter”. Name-checked by Margaret Thatcher in a speech from 1981, he is a former member of the Scottish Conservative Party executive council, described as “an Old Harrovian financier and stalwart of the horse-racing scene in the Borders” who apparently “disapproved of the oiks”.

His Linkedin page highlights that he is also the Chairman of EH99, a “Holyrood think-tank”. Just before publication, it was noted that the official EH99 website has ceased to exist. This, and the contents of the site that we managed to document, betrays a calculated lack of transparency and accountability, an echo of the dark money habits of the SUAT. (An archived version of the EH99 site is available here.)

 EH99’s churlish about us page reads:

We are a group of individuals with many years of experience in international business who believe that it is our ideas that should do the talking.

So, look in vain for mug shots and potted biographies. You’ll find none. What you will find, by clicking on the links on this page, is a summary of work that we have done or are currently working on.

Challenge accepted! Let’s see what ideas do the talking for these individuals, and what “potted biographies” they have been hiding.

A lot of the EH99 site is written in Lorem Ipsum, a form of gibberish Latin used as a placeholder text to show how a website will appear once it has been completed. It just so happens that the sections on “What we have achieved” and “What we are doing” are mostly written in this placeholder language.

It is worth noting that Robert Miller-Bakewell claims to have been a Chairman of EH99 since January 2018. This begs the question why, in three years, did they never complete their website? Would it raise more suspicions not having a website for a social media literate electorate, than simply having a placeholder site, in placeholder language? A magicians prop for the next sleight of hand?

Under “Legal Stuff” it is stated that EH99 is a “trading name of Centre Point Strategies Ltd”, a company with a registered address in London. There are three registered Directors of Centre Point Strategies Ltd: Robert Miller-Bakewell, Ewen Stewart and Neil Stratton.

Despite having no website, and in fact no discernible online presence at all, CPS were identified by Bethan John in an article published on firstdraftnews.org as being involved in two Facebook pages running aggressive black propaganda campaigns against Labour in the 2019 General Election. The City Action and Capitalist Worker pages spent “£22,500 reaching one million people with ads promoting negative news and opinion stories about the Labour Party.”

Ewen Stewart is the founder of CPS and of the three he is perhaps the most deeply embedded in the wider constellation of right-wing influencers.

He is an economist, journalist and political strategist (who lives in the Scottish Borders). Like every opportunistic disaster capitalist, last May he was already eyeing up the potential for setting the libertarian agenda of the Coronavirus response. He is registered as a Director of militant Brexit Tendency think-tank Global Britain and is a former Director of “charmless libertarian pressure group” The Freedom Association. Global Britain’s registered address is the same chartered accountancy firm as CPS.

Neil Stratton is also a CPS Director and is the former Chairman of the Scottish Border Conservatives. He is the principal author of the EH99 “Fair Share For All” report and is credited as author on both thinkscotland.org and brexitwatch.org.

Stratton proposed an essay to the readers of ThinkScotland last year:

Proposition: The current iteration of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist party is neither very Conservative nor very Unionist and in failing to live up to the latter attribute is doing a serious disservice to the first. Scotland needs a Conservative and Unionist opposition – not SNP Lite.

Yikes!

Robert Miller-Bakewell is the key figure here. Under his Chairmanship the SUAT has been accused of obfuscating the identity of those who direct their political donations, as well as the source of those finances. From the evidence presented here, under his Directorship of CPS and EH99 the same lack of transparency is apparent, with obtuse websites, obfuscated connections and dark money Facebook ads the favoured modus operandi. CPS is never mentioned in any of these individuals biographies, potted or otherwise.

What is also interesting to note is that Douglas Ross’s close ally, and his former campaign manager for Party Leader, is John Lamont. Lamont is the Conservative MP representing Berwickshire who is a key figure in the Scottish Border Conservatives group, in which Miller-Bakewell and Stratton have held senior roles. Elected to Westminster in 2017, Lamont also served as Ruth Davidson’s campaign manager. From 2016 to their last donation in 2018, the SUAT have provided Lamont and his constituency party with a total of £23,624.

It is not wild conjecture to state that through their direct financial, and personal, connections Douglas Ross and John Lamont knew who the SUAT were long before they were exposed in The Ferret. More importantly, it is also not wild conjecture to state that either they know from whom the SUAT receives their funding, or they don’t know, because it is better if they don’t know.

The question is, why don’t they want the rest of us to know?

STALBURY TRUSTEES: £15,000

Source: Courtesy of Bing Creative Commons.

We recently published our in-depth expose of Stalbury Trustees here.

An opaque organisation with links to Thatcher, Stalbury Trustees have donated £917,838 to the Conservatives since 2001. Having been incorporated since 1979 the actual historical amount will be well over £1 Million. They donated £50,000 to the No Borders anti-independence campaign as well as to Alister Jack and David Mundell.

Their stated purpose is “the promotion of the Conservative Party, the Conservative cause, and Conservative Principles and policies”.

The Directors of Stalbury are all members of the landed gentry, with the Marquess of Salisbury, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, the seventh generation of his family to be elected as a Conservative MP. His ancestors include a former Prime Minister, and his bloodline have been influencing British, and Global, politics for centuries.

Douglas Ross claims on his website that “in my maiden speech, I made it clear that my number one priority would be serving the interests of my constituents.” As the beneficiary of the ruling classes’ patronage, Douglas Ross’s claim should be met with derision. As George Orwell observed:

Inevitably, because of their position and upbringing, the ruling class are fighting for their own privileges, which cannot possibly be reconciled with the public interest.

THE CARLTON CB CLUB: £2500

Source: Courtesy of Bing Creative Commons.

Speaking of privilege……

A private members club (established in 1832), from which women were barred until 2008, the Carlton Club and Carlton Club Political Committee are registered as donating £975,550 to the Conservatives since 2001. Questions have been raised for years however if the true, and undeclared figure, is much higher.

Lord Lexden, the Carlton Club’s official historian writes “It would be hard to overestimate the importance of the establishment of the Carlton Club in the history of British party politics.”

In recent history, David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson have all been members. Stalbury Trustee Robert Salisbury and his ancestors are also recorded as having been members, along with Margaret Thatcher who eventually served as club President.

Controversially, the Carlton Club has also registered a £50,000 donation from a company owned by Henning Conle, a German businessman who was accused of making sizeable donations to the far-right AfD Party. It is unknown if the Club returned the donation after the benefactor was revealed, or if it has been disseminated through political donations.

The Old Boys of Stalbury and the Carlton literally put the ancien in ancien regime. Like previouse generations of Southern Dukes and lairds that Scotland has long endured, the current gentry need a loyal factor to ruthlessly impose their agenda. Douglas Ross continues the work of Clearance villain Patrick Sellar, who also happens to be buried in Moray. Like Sellar, Ross is another willing enforcer of what Pankaj Mishra calls Britain’s “fossilised politics”. He is a cultural warrior defending Britannia’s “archaic political and social structures, and an economy geared to further enriching the rich”.

CONCLUSION

Source: Courtesy of Bing Creative Commons.

Anointed as Unionism’s guerrilla chief and sabre-rattling big-man, Douglas Ross promises that a vote for the Tories in the imminent election is a vote for:

“A politics focused on resolving problems and delivering improvements, to the services that you and your family need and expect to be there. More often than not it isn’t partisan. It is rooted in localism and community. A sense of place and of belonging.”

He pledges “to stand up for Scots and be a voice for our concerns.” He will be a champion for local businesses who “should be supported to compete with the largest multi-national corporations.” Like every accomplished con man, he stares straight into your eyes as he vows to“ give you the power to make your own Scotland in your own image.”

Fine words from a man who epitomises Razzall’s percentages rule, with 90% of his funding coming from millionaire land-owners, Chairmen of multi-national corporations and partisan associations that are neither local to Moray nor community based (unless your community is the English aristocracy).

It is this asset-stripping, service privatising, privileged 10% that Ross is really speaking to, and for, when he claims that he wants to empower people to “make your own Scotland in your own image”.

A snake-oil salesman is one who advertises a product under false pretences, a product that offers a miracle cure to all life’s ailments, monetising a hope for change. But in reality it is an empty promise, expensively bottled and attractively branded. It is a continuation of your old ailments, only now with less money than you had before. Douglas Ross is a disingenuous middle-manager for the establishment, miss-selling a rigged Union through political sleight of hand.

It might come in a shiny new bottle, but it’s the same old shite when you open it up.

Follow Sean Rankin on Twitter: @ClydesiderRed

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APPENDIX I (OTHER DONORS)

ALASDAIR LOCKE £20,000

Alasdair Locke is registered as making political donations to the tune of £645,805 since 2001. £80,000 into Moray alone. Privately educated at Uppingham then Oxford. Locke is a multi-millionaire (Times Rich List 2020 No. 456 with estimated fortune of £286 Million) and former Chairman of Oil Conglomerate the Abbot Group who “maintains a portfolio of business interests” including chairing the Motor Fuel Group.

Keenly political, he is a big fan of Ruth Davidson – “she’s very real. Her instincts about where she wants to lead the Tory party chime with mine”. Locke says he is a Remainer on the EU membership question…”People probably think I’m a right-wing Tory, but I’m actually a woolly liberal centrist.”

In 2017 he was reported as withdrawing all future investment in Scotland until a second independence referendum was stymied. He was a signatory of a letter from corporate leaders in Scotland using classic project Fear tactics to argue that independence created uncertainty, and “Uncertainty is bad for business.”

Also keenly hypocritical, Locke was not shy of claiming in 2008 that:

He is also a strong believer in both renewable and nuclear energy. “It doesn’t matter if you believe in climate change or global warming; I actually believe we have to go down the route of renewable energy because we haven’t got enough oil and gas.”

But then ten years later, when presumably there’s even less Oil: “Oil services tycoon Alasdair Locke has said there is a bright future for the North Sea after the Motor Fuel Group he leads acquired its biggest rival MRH in a £1.2billion deal.”

ALASDAIR N G LAING £10,000

Alasdair Laing is the great grandson of the inventor of Digestive Biscuits.  From a landed gentry family his brother-in-law is Lord Charles Adlington. Laing attended Eton College and is an OBE. He has donated £10,000 in total to Moray, £5,000 under Douglas Ross as incumbent.

Laing describes himself as “Eminence Grise” at Logie Estates, the 13,000 acre estate on which he is Laird. The term éminence grise “came to mean a loyal confidant of any powerful individual” Perhaps apt in an article about political donations? Laing is a staunch defender of the economic and cultural importance of Grouse hunting and Game estates.

APPENDIX II (REQUEST FOR COMMENT)

4 thoughts on “Douglas Ross: Britannia’s Snake-Oil Salesman

  1. Thank you – that was very interesting. We are currently suffering a surfeit of him on the Beeb putting his shillingsworth in every news item re the SNP

    Liked by 1 person

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