Police are investigating claims of fraud against the SNP, over £600,000 in fundraising by Nicola Sturgeon’s party.
It’s claimed money raised by activists to prepare for another independence referendum was diverted, the Daily Record reports
Three members of the party’s Finance and Audit Committee resigned two weeks ago after the First Minister’s husband and party CEO Peter Murrell refused to show them accounts.
Police Scotland said: “We received an allegation of fraud at about 4.40pm on Thursday, March 25, 2021.
“Inquiries are ongoing and at an early stage.”
The investigation was triggered by a complaint from independence activist Sean Clerkin.
It centres on funds raised in 2017 and 2019. The SNP said cash would be “ring-fenced” and only spent on an IndyRef2 campaign.
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “The departure of three members of the SNP’s finance committee last month rightly raised questions.
“But this is a concerning development which requires swift answers from the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon.
“Scotland deserves better than the wave of scandals and distractions that have defined the SNP.
“We need a parliament focused on solutions – not a circus – and that’s why Scottish Labour are focused on delivering our national recovery plan.”
Scottish Tory chief whip Miles Briggs added: “While we remain entirely focused on blocking a divisive independence referendum and building back from the pandemic, the Nationalists are at war with each other. Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP are no longer content with dividing our country as they turn on each other with increasing venom.
“These serious allegations of fraud must be fully investigated, without fear or favour, to establish if there has been any criminality.”
The row is the latest in a series of rifts to hit the SNP. Former leader Alex Salmond has been joined in his pro-independence Alba Party by several high-profile defectors.
An SNP spokeswoman denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the cash claims as “dirty tricks” and a “conspiracy theory”.
She said: “There have been attempts for some time by opponents of the SNP to stir this up.
“It is part of an ongoing dirty tricks campaign and, like most conspiracy theories, utterly baseless.
“The SNP has no knowledge of any investigation but will be more than happy to set out the facts should questions be asked of us by any appropriate authority.
“The money raised has already helped us set up an Independence Unit, make other preparations for a referendum and budget for £600,000 of independence-related campaigning in the year ahead.”
The SNP’s accounts showed less than £100,000 in the bank at the end of 2019 and total net assets of around £272,000.
Murrell is understood to have refused to give members of the party’s Finance and Audit Committee access to full up-to-date figures at a meeting on March 20, following a pledge to spend £2.1million.
The National Executive Committee (NEC) had committed £600,000 towards “preparations” for an independence referendum.
A further £1.5million was allocated to the Nationalists’ largest-ever Holyrood election campaign with its central message for independence.
The funding was signed off this year but the committee demanded to be shown the books, causing an internal feud.
The committee members who stood down were Frank Ross, an accountant and Lord Provost of Edinburgh Council, NEC member Allison Graham and company director Cynthia Guthrie, who has since been unveiled as an Alba Party electoral candidate.
Clerkin – who last year unveiled a banner reading “England Get Out Of Scotland” at Edinburgh Airport – said: “I have made a complaint to the police and I have received an incident number.
“After an appointment at Barrhead Police Station, Police Scotland officers came to my home and I gave them a formal statement.
“I will always support independence but most of all, I support ordinary people who have given their money and expect it to be used for the stated purpose.
“I told the police that three members of the Finance and Audit Committee of the SNP had resigned after being refused access to accounts.
“I said I believed a financial fraud may have occurred and it’s up to them to investigate that.”
Recent polls have suggested the majority of Scots would vote against independence after a surge in support of up to 58 per cent last year.
Last month, a committee of MSPs concluded Sturgeon had misled Parliament over her involvement in investigation of sexual allegations against Salmond. But she was cleared by James Hamilton QC of breaching the ministerial code.
Meanwhile, two SNP branches were forced to hand back £20,000 of coronavirus emergency grants.
Arbroath and Montrose branches secured business support through Angus Council but have since learnt political parties are not eligible.