Shropshire Star

Police investigation into SNP finances: What we know so far

The investigation has been named Operation Branchform.

Police officers outside the home of Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell

On Friday, a year will have passed since police searched the home of Nicola Sturgeon and arrested her husband, Peter Murrell, as part of the ongoing investigation into the SNP’s finances.

On April 5 2023, Police Scotland officers searched the couple’s home and erected a blue tent outside the property, as well as carrying out searches at the SNP’s Edinburgh HQ.

The former SNP leader and first minister was later arrested as part of the investigation – like her husband she was released without charge the same day.

MSP Colin Beattie, the party’s ex-treasurer, was also arrested and released.

An investigation into the party’s funding and finances has been ongoing since July 2021.

– May 2021 – MP quits party finance role

Douglas Chapman resigned from his role as treasurer, saying he had not been given enough information to do his job.

Senior figures in the party, including Ms Sturgeon, later disputed his assessment.

Joanna Cherry, a vocal, internal critic of the party’s leadership, also resigned from her role on the National Executive Committee (NEC).

UK Parliament portraits
Former SNP treasurer Douglas Chapman stood down in April 2021 saying he did not have enough information to do his job (UK Parliament/PA)

– July 2021 – Police open investigation

Police Scotland confirmed they were investigating after seven complaints were made around donations to the SNP.

This followed allegations that £600,000 raised for campaigning towards Scottish independence was diverted elsewhere.

Earlier, the police said they were assessing a fraud allegation relating to £600,000 of funds “to determine if an investigation is required”.

The party said “all sums raised for independence campaigning will be spent on independence campaigning”.

– August 2021 – Party accounts acknowledge ‘concern’

As the party’s annual accounts were published, treasurer Mr Beattie acknowledged there had been “concern” about transparency over independence-related appeals that had raised more than £600,000.

In a section of the accounts, Mr Beattie discussed money raised by the referendum-related appeals since 2017.

He said that £666,953 had been raised up to the end of 2021, with a total of £51,760 expenditure applied to this income.

The money was “earmarked” through internal processes, he said, though the accounts did not officially record a separate sum.

– December 2022 – Loan to SNP emerges

In December, it emerged that Mr Murrell had loaned the party £100,000 in June 2021.

The party said this was to help with a “cash flow” issue after the election that year.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The resources that he lent the party were resources that belonged to him.”

Nicola Sturgeon resignation letter
Nicola Sturgeon resigned in early 2023 (Jane Barlow/PA)

– February 2023 – Nicola Sturgeon resigns

Ms Sturgeon stunned the political world by suddenly announcing her resignation on February 15.

She said this was not in relation to short-term pressures but because she knew in her “head and heart” that the time was right to go.

During her Bute House press conference, she was asked if she expected to be interviewed in relation to the investigation. She said she did not.

– March 2023 – Peter Murrell resigns

Amid the SNP leadership contest to replace Ms Sturgeon, Mr Murrell announced he was stepping down as the party’s chief executive – a role he had held for more than 20 years.

It came during a row over the party’s membership numbers, which also led to media chief Murray Foote stepping down.

Membership numbers had dropped by about 30,000 in the past year, something the party previously denied.

Scottish National Party leadership election
Peter Murrell was arrested in April 2023 as part of the ongoing investigation into the SNP’s finances (Andy Buchanan/PA)

– April 2023 – Peter Murrell arrested as police search premises

Mr Murrell was arrested on the morning of Wednesday April 5.

There was a large police presence around his home in Glasgow as well as the SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh.

He was released without charge, pending further investigation, the same day.

– April 2023 – Camper van seized

On April 9, a luxury camper van, thought to be worth about £110,000, was seized by police investigating the party’s finances.

First Minister’s Questions
SNP treasurer Colin Beattie was arrested as part of the investigation into the SNP’s finances and stood down soon afterwards (Jane Barlow/PA)

– April 2023 – Treasurer Colin Beattie arrested

On April 18, party treasurer Mr Beattie was arrested and interviewed by police.

His role was to oversee the party’s finances.

– April 2023 – SNP appoints new treasurer

Stuart McDonald was appointed as the SNP’s new treasurer on April 22 after Mr Beattie stood down with “immediate effect” following his arrest.

The 44-year-old MP, who represents Cumbernauld, Kirkintilloch and Kilsyth, admitted it would be a “difficult and challenging time” for the party.

– May 2023 – SNP appoints new auditor

The party appointed the AMS Accountant Group on May 3 2023, after its previous auditor, Johnston Carmichael, stood down in September 2022.

The party was subsequently able to file accounts before a crucial deadline which could have seen the Westminster group miss out on £1.2 million worth of funding.

– June 2023 – Nicola Sturgeon arrested

Former first minister and SNP leader Ms Sturgeon was arrested on June 11.

She “voluntarily” arranged with Police Scotland to be questioned as part of the investigation into the party’s finances, a spokesman said.

Like the other party figures, she was released without charge pending further investigation.

Upon returning to Holyrood, she said: “The thing that sustains me right now is the certainty that I have done nothing wrong.”

New Police Scotland officers
Sir Iain Livingstone said the investigation would be ‘proportionate and timeous’ (Robert Perry/PA)

– July 2023 – Sir Iain Livingstone says probe has ‘moved beyond’ initial reports

Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Iain Livingstone gave an interview shortly before he was to step down from his role.

He confirmed the police investigation, known as Operation Branchform, had “moved beyond what some of the initial reports were”, saying this is not uncommon in financial inquiries.

Sir Iain said he would not put an “absolute timeframe” on the length of the investigation but that it would be “proportionate and timeous”.

– August 2023 – Further comments from Sir Iain Livingstone

The outgoing chief constable spoke to the BBC in August 2023, saying police are “duty bound” to investigate matters reported to them.

He said: “Our action and our investigation is in the interests of everybody involved because it will clarify facts and deal with evidence and facts as opposed to rumour and innuendo.

“So the sooner this investigation is concluded, the better for everyone involved.”

Israel-Hamas conflict
Humza Yousaf said the investigation has ‘clearly’ affected how the public views the SNP (Andrew Milligan/PA)

– October 2023 – Finances probe a factor in by-election loss

Following the SNP’s defeat in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, Humza Yousaf said the investigation into the party’s finances – along with the “reckless” actions of recalled MP Margaret Ferrier – played a part in the result.

He said the party would “regroup” and come back stronger..

– January 2024 – Investigation has affected how public views party: Yousaf

Speaking to a BBC Radio 4 podcast, Mr Yousaf said the police investigation into SNP finances has “clearly” affected the public perception of the party.

He said the inquiry has been “one of the most difficult times” for the SNP and that he must work hard to rebuild trust.

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