The heir to the throne, Prince Charles, secretly lobbied Scottish ministers and public agencies to save red squirrels, protect bees, help sustainable fisheries, back homeopathy, create eco-towns, help young offenders and reform the education system.
A new cache of private royal correspondence released under freedom of information law reveals that Alex Salmond when he was First Minister enabled leaders of the Prince’s business, jobs and rural charities to address ministers before a Cabinet meeting. Salmond also reassured Charles that independence would not threaten the historic “union of the crowns”.
Critics accuse the Prince of pestering the government “for favours for his pet projects” and Salmond of “bending over backwards” to help him. But Charles insists he has a right to communicate in private his ideas for making the world a better place, while Salmond says ministers should hear what he has to say.
Texts of 30 letters from 2007 to 2014 between Prince Charles, Salmond, the government’s wildlife agency, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), and the ancient building agency, Historic Scotland, have been published by The Ferret (see below). Some sections, however, have been kept secret by the authorities.
The letters show a warm and friendly relationship between Charles and Salmond, with many meetings, discussions and much mutual collaboration. The Prince, aware of his reputation, prefaces a list of requests to the then First Minister in October 2007 by admitting he’s “at the risk of being a bore”.
The Prince’s prolific pleas to UK governments are commonly known as “black spider” memos because of his handwriting. But the newly released letters are nearly all typed, though occasional words are underlined by hand.
His call to help red squirrels and bees came in letters to SNH. In order to save red squirrels it was “absolutely crucial to eliminate” their bigger American cousins, grey squirrels, he argued in April 2009.
SNH’s then chief executive, Ian Jardine, agreed to meet with the Prince’s Red Squirrel Survival Trust. Jardine also said he was “very sympathetic” with concerns about bees expressed by the Prince.
In January 2014 Jardine was invited to meet Charles and his squirrel experts at Birkhall, the Prince’s residence on the Balmoral estate on Deeside. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the “practicalities” of a proposal by the Prince to introduce red squirrels onto the island of Mull.
SNH’s current chief executive, Susan Davies, pointed out that the Prince had long had an interest in environmental matters. “We welcome opportunities to exchange information on our approach to conserving Scotland’s nature,” she said.
Amongst the litany of topics raised by Charles with Salmond over seven years was the need for more support for environmentally-friendly small-scale fisheries in the north of Scotland. The Prince repeatedly plugged the work of his charities on alternative medicine, young offenders, education and sustainable housing.
In June 2007 Salmond arranged for chiefs of four of the Prince’s charities to give special presentations to ministers before a Cabinet meeting. The charities were Prince’s Trust Scotland, Scottish Business in the Community, North Highland Initiative and Dumfries House Trust.
Salmond subsequently told the Prince that he had asked ministers to look at “the potential for collaboration with your charities.” Three years later, in June 2010, the Prince thanked Salmond for the time given to his charities by three ministers, John Swinney, Richard Lochhead and Keith Brown, as well as funding for an extra £200,000 a year for his Scottish Youth Business Trust.
Salmond also wrote three times to the Prince in 2007, 2009 and 2010 highlighting that proposals for Scottish independence would not threaten the position of the Queen as head of state. There is no record of any responses from the Prince.
In July 2009, Salmond urged Charles to write to the alcoholic drinks giant, Diageo, to try and prevent the closure of its whisky bottling plant in Kilmarnock. The Prince, however, refused, offering support instead from one of his charities.
Republic, a group that campaigns to end the monarchy, accused Prince Charles of “interfering” in government and questioned his suitability to be king. “He has been caught out secretly pestering the Scottish Government and its agencies for favours for his pet projects,” said chief executive, Graham Smith.
“The monarchy is a bad fit for a modern democracy . We cannot have unaccountable princes influencing government without proper scrutiny and accountability.”
The left-wing Labour MSP, Neil Findlay MSP, complained that the rich and powerful had privileged access to ministers. “The former First Minister seems to be bending over backwards to accommodate lobbying by the Prince,” he said.
Prince Charles, who is known as the Duke of Rothesay in Scotland, argued that he should have the right to communicate privately. “The publication of private letters can only inhibit his ability to express the concerns and suggestions which have been put to him in the course of his travels and meetings,” said the Prince’s spokeswoman.
“The Duke of Rothesay cares deeply about the United Kingdom, and tries to use his unique position to help others . He has devoted his working life to helping individuals and organisations, to make a difference for the better of this country and the world.”
She pointed out that many ministers had welcomed the Prince’s views. “In all these cases, The Duke of Rothesay is raising issues of public concern, and trying to find practical ways to address the issues,” she said.
Alex Salmond stressed that the Scottish Government was right to release the correspondence, which should not cause any concerns. “The Duke of Rothesay is constitutionally entitled to communicate his views to ministers,” he said.
“Scottish ministers are then free to explain their position and do what they think is right. The only issue which reflects on the position of the monarchy is my request as First Minister for Prince Charles to make a personal intervention on Diageo’s withdrawal from Kilmarnock.”
Salmond said he was right to suggest this, but that the Prince was “probably correct” to refuse. “All of this is greatly to his credit. And there is nothing in this correspondence which would make anyone think the less of him as a concerned and active supporter of many good causes.”
The Scottish Government defended its decision to release the correspondence. “It was entirely appropriate for the Duke of Rothesay to discuss issues of interest and concern with the former First Minister – and equally appropriate for the then FM to respond courteously and constructively,” said a government spokeswoman.
The letters in full
Photo credit: Andy Gott | https://flic.kr/p/6tobaM
A version of this story was published by the Sunday Herald on 18 October 2015.