SNP TURMOIL: Ian Blackford rejects Nicola Sturgeon suspension calls

Ian Blackford revealed he knew the SNP auditors quit last year

By Lucy Ashton

Calls for former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to be suspended by the SNP began after a leaked video surfaced from March 2021 where she claimed to the NEC the party had “never been in a stronger financial position than it is now”.

She added: “I’m not going to get into the details … but just be very careful about suggestions that there are problems with the party’s finances because we depend on donors to donate – there are no reasons for people to be concerned about the party’s finances, and all of us need to be careful about suggesting that there is.”

After the video surfaced, the Scottish Tories led calls for the former first minister to be suspended from the party, a suggestion that has now been rejected by the SNP’s former Westminster leader Mr Blackford – a key Sturgeon ally.

He told BBC Radio Scotland: “Goodness gracious, absolutely not, there’s no reason for that at all. I think that’s some of our opponents politicking, really, in this context.”

In the video, Mr Blackford said, there was “nothing which was in any way untoward”, adding: “What the (former) first minister was reflecting on was the ability of the SNP to conduct itself as an organisation, having the financial resources in order to fight elections and to support its members.”

The video was reportedly shot days before a complaint was made to police about the use of £600,000 of donations earmarked for an independence referendum campaign, which would result in a police investigation and the subsequent arrest of her husband and former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.

Mr Murrell was released without charge “pending further investigation”.

A spokeswoman for Ms Sturgeon said on Monday: “In order to ensure the focus of this week is on the new First Minister setting out his priorities for the people of Scotland, Ms Sturgeon has always intended to participate remotely and intends to return to Holyrood in the near future.”

A report in the Daily Telegraph suggesting Ms Sturgeon would step down as an MSP was dismissed by the former Westminster leader as “idle speculation”.

The Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP also revealed he knew the party’s auditors had quit “towards the tail end of last year”, after it emerged the Johnston Carmichael which audited the SNP’s accounts resigned more than six months ago, but this information was not disclosed to the public or even some senior party figures.

Mr Blackford said: “What happened was that Johnston Carmichael stood down as the auditors of the SNP and, as a consequence of that, as the auditors for the Westminster group.

“I was told in a timely manner that had happened… that was towards the tail end of last year after Johnston Carmichael had submitted their resignation.”

Mr Blackford stressed that organisations regularly “review their arrangements” as it relates to auditors.

He went on to say “categorically” that the SNP’s Westminster group will submit its accounts to the Electoral Commission by the May 31 deadline.

Dumbarton constituency MSP and Labour’s deputy leader, Jackie Baillie, wa\s scathing about that, however.

She said: “ “The SNP is a party in complete disarray – with claim and counter-claim being traded in the crossfire.

“Ian Blackford has been at the heart of the SNP leadership for years – he is directly implicated in the financial and political chaos at the heart of the party.
“That Blackford claims to not remember when he was told that the auditors had quit is mind-boggling. All the evidence shows that they resigned while he was leader of the SNP Westminster group.
“With the House of Sturgeon-Murrell falling, the duo’s most trusted lieutenants are being trotted out to hide their failures. This will not wash with the people of Scotland. It’s time for a clean break and a fresh start with Labour.”

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