The outgoing SNP leader and her chief executive husband are urged to answer the question about whether or not they have a joint bank account, as Private Eye magazine says Operation Branchform was the ‘game-changer’ behind shock resignation
By Lucy Ashton
Private Eye has described the police investigation into SNP finances as the “game-changer” in Nicola Sturgeon’s abrupt decision to resign last month.
A column in the magazine also questioned whether Ms Sturgeon and her husband, the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, have a joint bank account and, if so, whether his loan of £107,620 was made from it.
Police Scotland launched a probe in July 2021 into fraud allegations involving around £600,000 in Indyref2 donations. Officers involved in Operation Branchform began contacting witnesses the week before the SNP leader stood down.
The interest-free loan to the party was made in June 2021, although it was not declared to the Electoral Commission until 13 months later August 2022.
According to Private Eye: “Eyebrows were also raised over why, when the loan was belatedly declared in the SNP accounts, it was listed as having been made by ‘executive management’ rather than by Murrell.”
It is understood that Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC, pictured left, has now stepped aside to allow Crown Agent John Logue, one of Scotland’s top prosecutors, to handle the politically sensitive case.
On February 6, the First Minister said she couldn’t remember when she learned about her husband’s loan and refused to say whether she was consulted about the decision. However, she insisted that none of the cash was hers and said: “The resources that he lent to the party were resources that belong to him.”
At the time, she appeared determine to continue in office and put forward a robust defence of her gender reforms as well as publishing her tax returns and calling for Rishi Sunak to follow suit.
Why the sudden change of heart?
Just nine days later, she called a surprise resignation press conference at Bute House. At the end, Ms Sturgeon was asked: “Have you been or do you expect to be interviewed by the police, who are looking into your party’s finances?”
The First Minister frowned as she gathered up her notes, and replied: “I’m not going to discuss an ongoing police investigation. I wouldn’t do it on any issue and I’m not going to do it now.”
However, earlier this week Police Scotland sources told the Sun that neither Ms Sturgeon nor Mr Murrell had been spoken to. Other figures involved in the case include SNP treasurer Colin Beattie.
Private Eye said: “Police Scotland have embarked on obtaining detailed statements from those involved. Foremost among these are Sturgeon, Murrell and Beattie.”
The report adds: “One question that remains unanswered is whether Murrell and Sturgeon have a joint bank account and, if so, whether the ‘loan’ was made from that account. Each time Sturgeon has been asked whether she has a joint bank account with her husband, she has refused to say.”
The Crown Office has said: “COPFS will continue to work with police in this ongoing investigation.”
The SNP said: “We are co-operating fully with the investigation.”