The once “untouchable” SNP suffers humiliation during the greatest crisis in decades.
Scotland’s ruling party has been falling apart in recent months as its finances come under the spotlight.
Polls have plummeted, arrests have been made, suspects detained and a luxury RV seized as a long-running police investigation heats up.
But what’s the matter?
The SNPs is a powerful political operation. She is seen as the dominant face of the Scottish independence cause, and with her comes cash.
Many people are willing to donate and become paid members of a party that hopes and believes to make their dream come true.
SNP, under Nicola Sturgeon watch that boasted a growing membership. It peaked at over 100,000 – cementing it as the third largest in the UK.
For a long time there was a feeling that the SNP hierarchy was untouchable.
Sturgeon’s iron fist operation rarely led to opposition, and internal squabbles never really played out in public. The first minister was known for her discipline, but some said she ran the party on a “need-to-know” basis, while critics who disagreed were quickly sidelined.
Salmond’s warning “will not end well”.
This is a story about a political power couple. The two at the top of the SNP were married. Ms Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, has been chief executive since 1999.
Former First Minister Alex Salmond told me in recent months that he warned the couple that the relationship would not work professionally and would not end well.
Politically, under Mrs. Sturgeon and Mr. Murrell, the SNP was an election winning machine.
The couple won every election in Scotland in 3,000 days working together. But they failed in their main mission of securing Scottish independence.
Many people expressed concerns about not having enough people to make all the decisions. Others questioned their strategy and what was really going on behind closed doors.
To reassure the SNP faithful, Ms Sturgeon would rally every few years to “put the brakes on” the push for a second referendum vote.
Where did the money go?
The party raised £666,953 in various appeals between 2017 and 2020, saying it would allocate funds to the indyref2 campaign.
But in subsequent years, audited financial accounts issued by the Electoral Commission revealed that the party had far less cash in the bank.
Some supporters had inquiries after bills showed he had nearly £97,000 in the bank at the end of 2019, with total net assets of around £272,000.
People who donated expressed concern about where the rest of the money went.
Ms Sturgeon’s leaked video taken in 2021 at an SNP governing body meeting appears to show her warning NEC members to be “very careful” about suggesting “any issues” with the bills.
In what appeared to be an angry exchange, she said: “There is no reason for people to worry about the party’s finances and we must all be careful not to imply that they are.”
Around the same time, the SNP’s national treasurer resigned – claiming he had not been given enough information to do the job.
Douglas Chapman MP for Dunfermline and West Fife resigned after only a few months in office.
It was reported at the time that his decision to step down was linked to a growing argument over segregated cash independence.
The police received official complaints
Transparency was clearly becoming an issue.
The situation became even more serious for the SNP around the same time that formal complaints were received by the Scottish Police.
The detectives began investigating fundraising and finances and launched Operation Branchform.
In June 2022, Mr Murrell gave SNP a personal loan of £107,620 to help with cash flow issues.
When the news went public, his wife faced some uncomfortable questions.
She claimed she could not “remember” when she first heard about this large loan involving her partner. The First Minister looked perplexed and tried to move on quickly. It was a touching episode.
Then he came Mrs Sturgeon’s bombshell resignationwho declared that she no longer had the strength to continue.
The timing surprised most people.
The first minister denied that it had anything to do with “short-term pressure” and within weeks began a farewell tour of television studios, including Interviews with Beth Rigby from Sky and ITV’s Loose Women.
The SNP endured bruises and a bitter leadership contest that mired in mudslinging and controversy.
One of its own biggest targets was the saga surrounding candidates who were not given access to the number of eligible members to vote.
The party had previously denied press reports claiming it had lost 30,000 members in recent years.
After the humiliating descent The SNP finally admitted the story was true. Red faces everywhere.
Amid growing demands for secrecy that threatened to plunge the leadership race into chaos, Mr. Murrell resigned as longtime boss. His Departure Saturday morning overshadowed his wife’s last moments in office.
In the end, Humza Yousaf narrowly defeated Kate Forbes and became Mrs. Sturgeon’s successor.
Its premiere stalled before it even started.
Sturgeon and Murrell: The fall of the SNP pair of forces in less than 150 days
Nicola Sturgeon says SNP crisis is beyond her ‘worst nightmares’
Who is at the center of the SNP police investigation?
It quickly emerged that the “Murrells” had failed to reveal to the new First Minister that the party he now heads had there were no auditors on its financial records. Accountants who had worked for SNP for a decade left last year.
Withholding this vital information from so many high-profile figures in the nationalist ranks has created further embarrassment and fueled the fire of cover-up claims.
Then came the biggest bomb of all. Mr. Murrell has been arrested.
Uniformed officers swarmed the Murrell/Sturgeon home on the outskirts of Glasgow. A white evidence tent was erected on the front lawn.
Detectives released their “suspect” without charge after nearly 12 hours of questioning. Mrs. Sturgeon later she described it as her “worst nightmare”.
These scenes were unthinkable just a few months ago. The house of a pair of Scottish political authorities raided and searched for more than 30 hours.
The next day, I and every political journalist in Scotland were invited to the official residence of the First Minister in Edinburgh for a briefing with Mr Yousaf.
We walked into the same room where Mrs. Sturgeon had made that infamous resignation speech a few weeks earlier.
This time the rostrum and rows of chairs were replaced with couches arranged in a circle with tea, coffee and cakes at the edge of the room.
Mr Yousaf arrived, rolled up his sleeves and answered every question from reporters before film crews were called in to record interviews for television, including Sky News.
This was a far cry from the Sturgeon regime and was clearly a deliberate strategy to send a signal to reset relations.
Over the following days, Sunday newspapers released a photo of a large luxury motorhome seized by detectives outside the Fife home of Mr Murrell’s 92-year-old mother. The vehicle was believed to be worth more than £100,000.
The chaos was to continue. Why on earth would a political party need an RV?
I confronted Mr. Yousaf when he found out that the RV is an “SNP asset”.
He confirmed he was party property and was kept in the dark until he became leader.
This led to further questions about the extent of the police investigation into party finances.
The SNP’s 2021 accounts include new ‘motor vehicles’ worth £80,632 after depreciation among the party’s assets. There is no confirmation as to whether this number refers to a luxury motorhome.
These accounts were signed by National Treasurer Colin Beattie.
He became the second ‘suspect’ arrested by Scottish Police, two weeks after Mr Murrell.
Mr. Beattie, who oversaw the SNP’s finances for nearly two decades, was released without charge pending further investigation.
Asked by journalists, 71-year-old the first said he had no knowledge of the RV before later explaining that he was aware.
A bizarre episode on the SNP soap opera.
Mr. Yousaf is trying to take control of the party’s rule, but the polls paint a grim picture of his next electoral fortunes.
Is this the price of over-control of the closed circle led by Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell? Sir Keir Starmer certainly hopes so.