Scotland’s former first minister has been questioned by police as part of a major investigation into SNP finances. What does this mean for the party?
It was just four months ago that Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s longest serving first minister, announced that she was stepping down. At the weekend she was arrested.
When Sturgeon quit as the Scottish National Party leader in April, she cited the relentless difficulties of the job. “I am a human being as well as a politician,” she said. But since she stepped down, Sturgeon’s life hasn’t gotten any easier.
A month after she resigned, her husband, Peter Murrell, stepped down as the SNP’s chief executive after he misled the public about the party’s membership numbers.
Not long after that, Murrell was arrested then released without charge. A forensic tent was put up in Murrell’s and Sturgeon’s front garden. A £100,000 motorhome owned by the SNP and parked outside the home of Murrell’s mother was seized.
Three days later, the SNP treasurer was also arrested and released without charge.
These arrests were made in connection to Operation Branchform, a police investigation into the SNP’s finances launched in July 2021.
The central focus appears to be £600,000, raised to fund a second independence referendum that never manifested. It’s unclear where that money went or on what it was spent. The investigation has seen an array of purchases examined, from the campervan to, reportedly, luxury pens, jewellery and a fridge.
It has also seen several SNP officials arrested, the latest being Nicola Sturgeon. On Sunday, she was questioned before being released without charge pending further investigation. She (along with the other SNP officials) denies any wrongdoing.
The SNP is already suffering in the polls: its projected vote share has fallen by ten points in six months. Given the SNP’s new leader, Humza Yousaf, was anointed by Sturgeon, what happens to the former first minister could rub off on him.
On Monday, Yousaf said he won’t suspend Sturgeon from the SNP, a decision that he may yet come to regret.
Rest assured that Scottish Labour – which hopes to snaffle dozens of seats from the SNP in the next general election – is waiting in the wings. What happens to Nicola Sturgeon and her party in the coming months may yet decide the future of Britain.