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by Margaret Taylor
04 January 2024
Sir Brian Souter returns to SNP fold under Yousaf's leadership

Stagecoach founder Sir Brian Souter was historically one of the SNP's biggest donors | Alamy

Sir Brian Souter returns to SNP fold under Yousaf's leadership

Stagecoach founder Sir Brian Souter has shifted his allegiances back to the SNP after distancing himself from the party during Nicola Sturgeon’s time at the helm.

Once one of the party’s largest donors, Souter – who founded the bus company along with his sister Dame Anne Gloag in 1980 – gave more than £2.5m to the SNP between 2007 and 2014.

He stopped donating to the party when Sturgeon replaced Alex Salmond as leader and first minister following the unsuccessful independence referendum held in 2014.

According to a report in Politico, Souter was last year enlisted by Sturgeon’s replacement, Humza Yousaf, to help organise a dinner that the news site says was designed to “repair ties between government and business”.

Politico states that documents released under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation show that Souter was “extensively courted” by Yousaf’s aides after the first minister attended the Souter-organised annual National Prayer Breakfast in June.

The Scottish Government released an exchange of emails between Yousaf’s chief of staff Colin McAllister and an aide to Souter that show the former suggesting a list of potential invitees for the dinner. An employee at Souter Investments – Souter’s private equity business – responded that “Brian is happy with the proposed list below”.

Asked whether Souter would be willing to “nudge people” to have them attend the dinner, Souter’s representative told McAllister that “Brian is fine with reaching out to people once we have the date in the diary”.

The dinner at Edinburgh’s Prestonfield House went ahead in July 2023 and was attended by Yousaf, wellbeing economy secretary Neil Gray, Souter, former DC Thomson managing director Ellis Watson and nine people whose names were redacted from the FOI release.

Souter has strong links with the business community and has been expanding his business interests after selling Stagecoach for £595m in an all-cash deal that closed in 2022.

Last year Souter Investments co-invested in Irish mechanical, electrical and instrumentation engineering business Suir Engineering and infrastructure services firm Amey.

In addition to his position in the business community Souter is known for his socially conservative views and has in the past been a controversial figure, campaigning in 2000 to keep the Section 28 clause – Section 2A in Scotland – that prevented local authorities from "intentionally promoting homosexuality". Souter personally funded a £1m public poll on the matter.

Souter has never spoken publicly about his split with the SNP under Sturgeon but it is thought his socially conservative stance was at odds with the socially progressive direction she sought to take the government in.

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