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MS Word edit history snares Scottish Labour on donations

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Scottish Labour chief Wendy Alexander stands on the shakiest of political ground today after her leadership campaign became further embroiled in the escalating donations scandal over the weekend.

If she is forced to fall on her claymore for accepting an illegal £950 from a tax exile, she'll have long the Scottish winter to rue the apparent lack of IT savvy in her office.

Alexander protested her ignorance of the donation in a statement yesterday, saying: "I reject any suggestion of intentional wrongdoing on my part."

As ever with political shenanigans, Alexander is clinging to the lifeline of plausible deniability over the affair, but her home computer could prove the opponents' star witness, reports say.

Labour spinners have stated that she only found out about Jersey businessman Paul Green's gift when the story broke last Thursday. According to the Sunday Herald however, her list of campaign donors reveals the cash was flagged as dodgy in the file back on 5 November - on a computer registered to her husband Brian Ashcroft, a University of Strathclyde professor.

Ashcroft's computer was indentified using the editing history in the properties of the Word document. Microsoft Office suite programs can have this "track changes" function switched on in a way that is invisible to the user, though it is simple to deactivate.

The list of donors, how much they contributed, and who solicited it had been annotated. Next to Green's entry someone had written "Permissible?".

Alexander's team had told political watchdogs at the Electoral Commission that the money had come legal via a corporate donation. According to the Sunday Herald, Green disputes this, and claims to have received a thank you letter from Alexander at his Jersey address.

As it turned out, Alexander ran for leader unopposed and the money was used for a tour of constituencies rather than a political battle. Police may launch an investigation anyway.

Coming as the "donor switching" sleaze swirls around the Westminster Labour Party, the revelation that Scottish Labour allegedly knew the money was illegal weeks ago is incredibly damaging. The Scottish Nationalist Party government has said Alexander has lost "all credibility" at Holyrood.

The BBC reports Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "The only reason Ms Alexander is staying in post is to act as a human shield for Gordon Brown whose sole priority is not her interests or Scottish Labour; it's to prevent the house of cards collapsing down south."

Labour's own chief whip Geoff Hoon raised his own questions for Alexander over the digital paper trail. He said: "I don't believe it puts her in an impossible position, but clearly she has to explain how this came about - what she knew at the time."

The parallel Westminster row was fired by donations by North East property developer David Abrahams that were illegally funnelled through third parties to conceal his identity. So far Labour's general secretary Peter Watt has resigned, and Gordon Brown's chief fundraiser Jon Mendelson looks vulnerable after Abrahams said he approved the series of handouts.

The Electoral Commission has referred the Abrahams case to Scotland Yard. ®

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