SNP Scottish National party OPN
A two-year police investigation has been underway into SNP’s finances, its membership has plummeted and it faces the threat of a test at the polls Image Credit: Gulf News

Over the past decade, nothing it seems could stop Scotland becoming independent. Poll after poll, month after month — and particularly after the rest of the United Kingdom voted for Brexit — the Scottish Nationalist Party was riding higher.

Scotland, it seemed, would inevitably become independent — sooner rather than later. And First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would be there, leading the campaign through IndyRef2. Nothing could stop it.

Except the SNP itself.

Right now, the party has imploded, Sturgeon is gone, and a growing number of senior officials are under police investigation over allegations that campaign money was misspent.

SNP grandees under investigation 

Among the allegations — Sturgeon’s own husband, Peter Murrell, has been formally questioned by police, so too the party treasurer — that a campaign bus supposedly purchased to make the case for independence, was actually a camper van to which only a very limited number has access for holidays.

Sturgeon quit a little under three months ago, citing the pressures of the job. Within days came word that her husband, the party’s CEO, was being questioned.

Now, Hamza Yousaf, the current First Minister and the man who won the race to replace Sturgeon, inherits a party in meltdown. That hope of independence seems further away than ever before. If the SNP can’t run itself, how can it run a nation? And if it can’t be trusted with its own members’ funds, how could it be trusted with the finances of an independent Scotland?

A two-year police investigation has been underway into the party’s finances, its membership has plummeted and it faces the threat of a test at the polls if one of its Members of Parliament, Margaret Ferrier is suspended by the House of Commons.

She was reckless during the pandemic lockdown, travelling to and from London by train when she knew she was positive for the virus. Before, a by-election would be grist for the mill that is the SNP election machine. Now? Let’s just say Labour and Sir Keir Starmer would relish the opportunity of taking the maligned separatists to task on the campaign trail.

Sturgeon, who led the SNP to eight election victories, is not returning to the Scottish Parliament anytime soon as police examine emails that suggest she herself declined to open party finances to scrutiny.

OPN Humza Yousaf
Hamza Yousaf, the current First Minister and the man who won the race to replace Sturgeon, inherits a party in meltdown

Leaked video and more concerns

Meanwhile, a leaked video shows the former FM playing down concerns about the party’s finances in 2021, while warning of the impact on donors of going public with concerns.

Police Scotland have been investigating the SNP since 2021 after receiving seven complaints related to donations to the party. Donors claimed hundreds of thousands of pounds given during the 2017 referendum appeal — and a subsequent 2019 fund-raising effort — were spent by the party on other things.

While the SNP had suggested that more than £600,000 raised through the special appeals was “ring-fenced” for a referendum campaign, filings to the Electoral Commission, the independent watchdog, showed that at the end of 2019 the party had less than £100,000 in cash and cash equivalents.

Police Scotland and the Crown Office are investigating how £600,000 of funding raised by the SNP for independence campaigning has been spent.

The latest plot twist in the long-running saga came last week when Colin Beattie, the SNP Treasurer, was arrested as part of the ongoing police investigation. He’s also a Member of the Scottish Parliament, first elected in 2011 having previously been an international banker for more than 20 years.

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Smelling blood, opposition parties have called for Beattie to be suspended from the SNP as the police investigation continues. Asked if Beattie had been suspended from the party, Yousaf said: “I’ve said already that people are innocent until proven guilty.”

Beattie was released without charge pending further investigation — but the contagion from the crisis is growing.

As with most scandals in politics, timing is everything.

No IndyRef 2?

When it came to elections for Westminster, the SNP had recently won most seats in Scotland — some 50 or so out of the 57 available north of the border in recent general elections.

Its block of MPs are a noisy and vociferous element in any Commons debate, opposing Conservative policy consistently against David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. And they were quick to point out that with all of the chaos in London, the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh ought to take control of its own affairs.

With a general election due in the UK within a year — by November of 2024 at the latest — Labour will relish the current meltdown of the SNP. Before the nationalists rose to political dominance, Labour could traditionally count on some 30 or seats from north of the border.

A return to that type of number would provide a very handsome bonus indeed for Sir Keir as he tries to overturn an 80-seat majority won by the conservatives the last time they faced the electorate under Johnson.

While the current party turmoil isn’t the end of the pursuit of an independent Scotland, it does mark a significant turning point — a significant obstacle in what seemed to be a clear road ahead.

Alex Salmond, the former First Minister and a man who fell out with Sturgeon and has been ostracised and excommunicated by senior SNP officials under Sturgeon’s wing, might consider now is the time for a comeback.

Maybe so, but with the mess the SNP is in, better to let it solve this mess of its making — and let the legal and police processes run their painful course in the meantime.

There will be no IndyRef 2 anytime soon. I’d bet not until after 2030 … Yes, this mess is that serious.