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The SNP in crisis

The SNP in crisis


How a financial crisis in the Scottish National Party threatens its dominance of Scottish politics

“We’re definitely not facing bankruptcy. I’m pleased to say we’re on a steady footing when it comes to the party’s finances.”

Humza Yousaf, Scottish first minister, Sky News

Imagine being forced to deny that the political party you lead is running out of cash. That’s the situation facing Humza Yousaf right now. The newly elected leader of the Scottish National Party has been having a tough time since he replaced Nicola Sturgeon in late March.

The largest item on his plate is a sprawling police investigation into the party’s finances, after £600,000 raised for a second independence referendum was apparently spent on other things.

Police Scotland are reportedly looking into purchases of burner phones, luxury kitchen items, jewellery and even a motorhome that was seized from the driveway of Nicola Sturgeon’s mother-in-law.

“A luxury £100,000 motorhome was reportedly wheeled away from the house in Fife as part of the active investigation into SNP finances.”

Channel 4 News

They’ve also arrested, questioned, and released without charge two key figures in the SNP.

Peter Murrell, husband of Nicola Sturgeon and the former CEO of the party, resigned in March weeks before scores of police arrived at his home, set up a forensic tent in the garden, and arrested him. 

The party treasurer, Colin Beattie, was arrested and released without charge. He has now stepped down from his post. 

Reporter: “Colin, is this the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?”

Colin Beattie: “No, I was in Beirut actually when I was under artillery fire – that was worse.”

Reporter: “Did you know about the motorhome purchase? Did you sign it off?”

Colin Beattie: “No, I didn’t know about it.”


As the third remaining name on the SNP’s accounts, many are wondering whether Nicola Sturgeon could be next. She denies the looming investigation had anything to do with her decision to step down.

“I could not have anticipated in my worst nightmares what would have unfolded over the past few weeks.”

Nicola Sturgeon, former Scottish first minister

It’s all moving very quickly. Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy, built over many years, is unravelling in weeks. Support for the new leader is already showing cracks and the opposition parties are hoping they can dent the SNP’s lead in the polls.

Questions of criminality are only part of the SNP problems. The party has been strapped for cash for a while. 

According to the register of interests, donations from individuals to the party amounted to £390,000 last year, down from nearly £800,000 the year before.

Before his departure Colin Beattie informed the party’s ruling body that it was struggling to balance the books after an exodus of nearly 30,000 members since last year.

And, unluckily for Humza Yousaf, the situation could be about to get even worse.

Could one of the UK’s main political parties really go bankrupt? 

The auditor of the SNP’s accounts, Johnston Carmichael, resigned last October.  Humza Yousaf says he only found out about this when he became leader. He is now scrambling to find a new one.

“The fact that we don’t have auditors in place is one of the major priorities, as you can imagine, when I found that out being party leader. The party is currently looking to secure another auditor.”

Humza Yousaf, the Times

The SNP needs to submit an auditor’s certificate by 31 May or risks losing more than £1 million of “short money” – taxpayer funding from the House of Commons reserved for opposition parties. 

So far, they haven’t had any luck. Here’s Stephen Flynn, the leader of the SNP in Westminster, speaking to Good Morning Scotland on the BBC.

“To be honest, I thought it would be a relatively straightforward process securing new auditors. That’s obviously proven not to be the case.”

Stephen Flynn, BBC’s Good Morning Scotland

Ian Blackford, the previous SNP leader in Westminster, says he alerted Stephen Flynn to the situation after he found out about it late last year. But, in a sign that cracks are showing in the party, Stephen Flynn denied this was the case.

“There may well have been discussions between other people but certainly in relation to myself I became fully aware of the situation on the tenth of February.”

Stephen Flynn, BBC’s Good Morning Scotland

The iron discipline of Nicola Sturgeon’s era also appears to be fading as policy differences emerge. A court challenge to the UK government’s decision to throw out Scotland’s gender-ID law seems to be a particular bone of contention.

The general secretary of Alba, the pro-independence party led by former first minister Alex Salmond which campaigns against self-ID, claims it has gained hundreds of new members since Humza Yousaf took office.

As well as disharmony within the party, Humza Yousaf is also having to face down a Labour party hungry for Scottish votes.

Here’s Anas Sarwar, leader of Scottish Labour, speaking in the Scottish parliament.

“On Tuesday, Humza Yousaf tried to convince the country that he represented a fresh start. 16 years of command and control, financial mismanagement and a complete lack of transparency. This isn’t just how they govern their party, it’s how they govern the country.”

Anas Sarwar

Publicly, Labour figures talk of capturing 12 SNP-held seats at the general election, while privately they hope to land nearer to 20. 

Luckily for the SNP, there are no local elections in Scotland this year. But the police investigation into the party’s finances is likely to last for months. It has the potential to overshadow the general election campaign in Scotland. 

Humza Yousaf told LBC’s Andrew Marr that the SNP will not be reimbursing people for the donations they made to the party for independence campaigning.

“Look money that is raised by the membership, by the party, we’re going to spend that on advancing the cause of an independence referendum.”

HumzYousaf, LBC

But what exactly does that mean? Part of the reason the SNP ended up in a financial pickle is because of a lack of clarity on what funds would and would not be spent on.

Without this clarity Humza Yousaf may struggle to rebuild his party and win the support of donors..

This episode was written by Barney Macintyre and mixed by Tomini Babs.