By Bill Heaney
Senior Scottish political figures fear that former SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell will soon be charged by police as part of Operation Branchform.
Both were arrested and questioned under caution by detectives investigating the party’s finances, but have never been charged.
Now SNP members believe that the wide-reaching inquiry is close to completion, and could lead to the ex First Minister and chief executive making an appearance in court.
Speculation has has increased on social media that the next stage of the investigation will begin within the next few weeks.
This will either involve charges being brought against SNP figures, or the inquiry being dropped altogether, although that seems unlikely.
Operation Branchform has been ongoing for two years, with the arrests of the couple and former treasurer Colin Beattie happening in early 2023.
Several leading nationalists have told The Times that they believe a conclusion to the probe is imminent. One said: “It feels this is now coming to a head and that these investigations are likely to result in charges being brought.”
Prominent Holyrood politicians who are normally in the know believe Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell may be charged as early as this weekend, but Police Scotland have refused to comment on the active case.
The former First Minister has repeatedly claimed that she is innocent of any wrongdoing, however.
Sir Iain Livingstone, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, pictured right, is believed to want this serious matter off his desk before he retires in the next fortnight.
He told a radio programme that the investigation had expanded from the initial complaint of a missing £660,000 of donations and bequests to now looking at “misuse of funds” and “potential embezzlement.”
Sir Iain Livingstone said that the investigation had grown from the initial fraud probe.
He added: “Investigations into the finances of an organisation, the finances of an individual, are often complex.
“Investigations around fraud or investigations around potential embezzlement or investigations around the misuse of funds take time.
“You need to go and obtain information from banks and other financial institutions. We can’t just do that automatically.”
Sir Iain told BBC Radio 4 that the initial probe had “moved beyond what some of the initial reports were.”
Detectives have searched a number of locations linked to the SNP, including its HQ in Edinburgh and the marital home of Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell.
A long list of items, including some of the former First Minister’s clothing and other personal items, were seized from both premises, with officers also removing a motorhome worth £110,000 from outside the home of Mr Murrell’s mother in Fife.
The former First Minister has repeatedly claimed that she was innocent of any wrongdoing, and some members of the SNP have gathered around to support her.
The MSP group sent her flowers following her arrest and threw a lavish going away party for her in a posh Edinburgh entertainment venue.
The former Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has repeatedly stated that Nicola Sturgeon is one of the best politicians in Europe.
Speaking to journalists at Holyrood last month, Ms Sturgeon said: “To find myself in the situation I did, when I am certain I have committed no offence, is both a shock and deeply distressing.” But she refused to say that her husband was also not guilty.
An SNP spokesman said: “The SNP have been co-operating fully with this investigation and will continue to do so. However, it is not appropriate to publicly address any issues while that investigation is ongoing.”
Top of page picture: Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell attending an event prior to her resignation as First Minister of Scotland.