Sturgeon and Murrell have resigned as questions keep coming over ‘indyref2’ cash
The Sunday Mail is reporting that SNP is being probed over high-value transactions and gifts as part of a fraud inquiry into a ‘missing’ £600,000 from party funds, according to reports.
Police Scotland is still investigating at least 19 allegations made in the past two years after the sum was raised to be “ring-fenced” for indyref2 in 2017.
Just two years later, the party had less than £100,000 in the bank. And in 2021, former chief executive and husband of Nicola Sturgeon, Peter Murrell handed the party a £107,000 interest-free loan due to cash flow issues.
It has now been reported that senior members of the SNP have been asked about items of spending and gifts dating back to 2018 as part of Operation Branchform, which is being directed by Crown prosecutors. A source told the Sunday Mail that police were “particularly interested in vehicle purchases and other items of capital expenditure”.
They added: “Some of the people spoken to have been surprised to find questioning focused on this rather than donations.” Accounts filed for the party show an £80,632 “tangible asset” of “motor vehicles”.
Both Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell have denied being interviewed by police. Ms Sturgeon quit as first minister in February and will officially step down on Tuesday.
Mr Murrell held on until last week when his position finally became untenable after it emerged the party had given false information about membership numbers to the Sunday Mail. It emerged last week that the Nats had lost 30,000 members since the end of 2021 and 10,000 in the last three months alone.
The fraud probe has hung over the SNP since former member Sean Clerkin lodged a complaint in March 2021. A month later, three members of the SNP’s Finance and Audit Committee resigned amid reports Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell refused to let them see the accounts.
In May 2021, party treasurer Douglas Chapman stood down, citing frustration over not being able to carry out his duties.
That was followed by Joanna Cherry MP, right, quitting the party’s National Executive Committee, claiming she was prevented from improving “transparency” and “scrutiny” within the party.
A police investigation was eventually opened in July 2021. It has been reported that Mr Chapman was spoken to as a witness by Police Scotland days before Ms Sturgeon announced her resignation last month.
Another party source said: “Douglas Chapman is an honourable and professional man who has done nothing wrong. He was elected to the post of treasurer to bring much-needed transparency and accountability to the SNP’s internal finances.
“However, he was obstructed at every turn in his efforts to do this by the chief executive and, as a result, he resigned from the post.”
Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said the affair “stinks of SNP secrecy”. He added: “These latest claims into the long-standing police investigation only add to how murky this situation has got for those at the very top of Scotland’s ruling party.
“Peter Murrell may have resigned in disgrace as the SNP’s chief executive but these questions over this significant sum of money are simply not going to disappear. Whoever emerges from the SNP’s bitter leadership contest cannot ignore the serious questions looming over them. The onus is on Nicola Sturgeon’s replacement to urgently be transparent over exactly what has happened to the missing £600,000.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “Questions about the SNP’s murky finances just keep piling up. The usual SNP secrecy and cover-up won’t cut it – they need to open the books and come clean about what exactly has gone on here.”
A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “A report which outlines inquiries already undertaken and seeks further instruction has been submitted to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. We are working closely with COPFS as the investigation continues.”
An SNP spokesman said: “We will cooperate fully with the police investigation and will make no further comment.”
Meanwhile, under Scottish Parliament rules ministers leaving office receive a portion of their salary as a lump sum payout.
Sturgeon will get £48,283.50 – half of her £96,567 ministerial portion of their salary – as a resettlement grant while Deputy First Minister John Swinney will get just £12,524.25.
Aside from the First Minister all other cabinet members get 25 per cent of their current ministerial salary when they leave.
Swinney’s ministerial wage is £50,097. When their standard MSP wage is added into their ministerial payment, Sturgeon is earning £163,229-a-year while Swinney is on £116,759.
These payouts are likely not to be the only ones made as the Scottish Government faces a turbulent week of reshuffling when the new First Minister is announced tomorrow.
If any current cabinet members are asked to leave their ministerial roles and return to the back benches they will also be eligible for a resettlement grant.
And meanwhile just over a month ago the two most senior police officers visited the Scottish Parliament on the 9th February 2023.
In relation to an FOI request made by Stu Campbell, Police Scotland will not confirm even if the two officers attended despite it being known the the chief constable arrived by chauffeured car with the DCC arriving in his own car.
Police Scotland have however responded to say apologies for not responding before last week saying that a response is now being prepared.
However, and this is a big however, the Chief Constable has now announced his resignation. Crown Agent for Scotland David Harvie is now going too, leaving the Crown Office to take up a job as a Sheriff I’m Inverness. Top SPAD to Sturgeon, Liz Lloyd, has also resigned. As has head of communications, Murray Foote. And of course Sturgeon’s husband has stood down as has SNP party CEO Peter Murrell.
Something is very very wrong with the mechanism of governance and the rule of law in Scotland and it looks very much like the truth about the government, the apparatus of state and the rule of law is about to break.