North East MSP Peter Chapman has resigned from his front bench role at Holyrood after it emerged he used his position to lobby on behalf of a firm he owns shares in.
The Conservative MSP has quit as the party’s spokesman on rural affairs in Scotland following the revelation that he lobbied councillors to approve expansion plans for Aberdeen and Northern Marts (ANM) Group at Thainstone, Inverurie when he held a £50,000 shareholding in the agricultural co-operative .
But he failed to mention his stake in the firm and is now insisting it was an “honest mistake” and that he did not stand to gain financially from its approval.
In his letter of resignation to Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, Mr Chapman said: "As a local farmer myself, I am a member of the ANM Cooperative and, in April of this year, registered a £50,000 shareholding in the group. This investment is not linked to the company's performance and the shares cannot be traded. I therefore stand to make no money myself if the planning application goes through. All I gain from this investment is the interest it earns.
"In my conversations with the councillors last week, I did not tell them about this interest. It was not my intention to hide this: indeed anyone can see the details of my investment on the Scottish Parliament register of interests. I can say hand on heart that my only thought was to support a local business and improve our economy.
"Nonetheless, it’s quite clear with hindsight that I should have made my financial interest in the phone calls clear and that it was a foolish oversight on my behalf not to do so,” he said.
“I failed to maintain the high standards of transparency that is expected of MSPs. As a result, I cannot, in all conscience, continue in post, hence my reason for offering my resignation.”
Ruth Davidson said she accepted Mr Chapman’s resignation from her front bench team “with regret”.
She told him: “I fully accept that you acted in this instance on behalf of your constiutuents to promote local employment - to no financial benefit to yourself - and it is a mark of your intgerity that you choose to step down, rather than allow for any hint of impropriety.
"I know your strong commitment in all things is to your constituents in the North-east, and that you will continue to serve them with vigour over the months and years ahead.”
However, Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has urged Ruth Davidson to “clean up” her party in light of Mr Chapman's actions.
Mr Stevenson said: “The time has now come for Ruth Davidson to clean up her party. She really needs to get a grip of her self-interested colleagues on the Tory benches.
“The Tories think that they can do what they want and get away with it – but time and time again they get caught out. Peter Chapman is not the first, and I doubt he’ll be the last.
“This latest example is an incredibly serious issue – and shows just how far Ruth Davidson’s party are prepared to go in order to feather their own nests.
“Peter Chapman spent five years as a councillor in Aberdeenshire and therefore should be well-aware of how the system works if you have a financial interest in a planning application. Mr Chapman was on the Buchan Area Committee when his own planning applications for wind turbines were up for discussion and managed to remove himself from those discussions. He should have known that the same thing applied here and it’s therefore right that he has resigned his position.”