What was in Nicola Sturgeon’s HMRC tax return? SNP leader documents explained and has Rishi Sunak revealed his

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Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the SNP has called on UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to follow her lead

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has published her tax returns dating back to 2016, in a move that is likely to heap pressure on other UK political leaders.

Conservative Scottish opposition leader Douglas Ross - who also sits in Westminster as an MP - has published his returns in response to Sturgeon’s calls for greater transparency. Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has yet to follow suit.

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At a press conference to accompany the publication of her tax returns, the SNP leader called on the Prime Minister to follow suit. Rishi Sunak has previously said he will be publishing his returns “shortly”.

Sunak’s personal finances are the subject of much speculation. He is believed to be one of the richest MPs in the House of Commons, and has come under fire over the last year for his murky tax affairs as well as those of his wife, Akshata Murty.

In March 2022, when the PM was serving as Boris Johnson’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, it emerged Ms Murty was claiming non-dom status while living in the Chancellor’s grace and favour Downing Street flat - a categorisation that was likely to have significantly reduced the UK tax bill on her vast fortune. She subsequently pledged to pay UK taxes in full.

So, what did Nicola Sturgeon’s tax returns reveal - and what did she say about them?

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What was in Nicola Sturgeon’s tax returns?

In 2016, the First Minister published tax returns filed since 2014 (when she became FM), in response to the Panama Papers leak. This leak revealed 140 political leaders, prominent politicians and their family members from 50 countries around the world were benefiting from tax avoidance schemes (there is no suggestion of any involvement on Sturgeon’s part).

Nicola Sturgeon has urged political opponents to publish their tax returns (image: Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon has urged political opponents to publish their tax returns (image: Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon has urged political opponents to publish their tax returns (image: Getty Images) | Getty Images

At the time, she pledged she would continue to publish her returns for every year she remained as FM. However, she apparently forgot her own pledge until 6 February 2023 when she published all of the returns she had missed in the interim.

Any political opponents hoping for a juicy hook on which to hang an attack line against Sturgeon are likely to have been disappointed by the contents of her tax return. But she did make one gaffe - her bank account number and the tax reference for her pension scheme were included in the original release, meaning the documents had to be briefly taken down for editing.

They show one regular income stream - her MSP and FM salaries, which pay her more than £140,000 a year. They also show she paid income tax of £51,000 on this income.

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Meanwhile, she has put £450,000 into her pension since becoming First Minister nine years ago. She paid tax on her pension contributions in the 2015/16 financial year and in 2021/22 as she exceeded the tax-free allowance of £40,000.

What wasn’t shown in the documents, but which was revealed in addition to them by the SNP, was that the FM forgoes around a fifth of her annual salary (around £27,000 for the current financial year). This is because Scottish ministers agreed to effectively freeze their additional pay back in 2008/09 by sending a tranche of their salary back into the public coffers.

What has Nicola Sturgeon said?

At a press conference accompanying the release of her tax returns, Sturgeon sought to pressure her political opponents into following her lead.

In comments reported by NationalWorld’s sister title The Scotsman, she said: “I previously committed to being open and transparent to the people of Scotland about my own earnings. Today’s publication makes good on that commitment.

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Nicola Sturgeon has been coy on the state of the SNP’s finances (image: Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon has been coy on the state of the SNP’s finances (image: Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon has been coy on the state of the SNP’s finances (image: Getty Images) | Getty Images

“These documents show clearly that my sole source of income is my job as First Minister – the office which I have the immense privilege of holding. I hope other party leaders, including the Prime Minister, will follow suit in an effort to promote transparency in public office.”

But she was less forthcoming on continued scrutiny of the SNP’s financial affairs. It recently emerged her husband Peter Murrell (chief executive of the SNP) paid a £100,000 loan to the party in 2021. She said: “The resources that he lent the party were resources that belonged to him” but did not go into any further detail on the matter.

Who else has published tax returns?

At the time of writing, only Scottish Conservative opposition leader Douglas Ross and Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton have followed the First Minister’s lead - although both have only released returns for the 2021/22 tax year.

Ross’s documents show his earnings as both an MP and an MSP (the latter of which he says he donates to charity). His MP salary was £72,821, but his MSP income is much lower - £17,223 - as result of his dual mandate.

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Douglas Ross has a sideline as a sideline official at professional football games in Scotland (image: Getty Images)Douglas Ross has a sideline as a sideline official at professional football games in Scotland (image: Getty Images)
Douglas Ross has a sideline as a sideline official at professional football games in Scotland (image: Getty Images) | Getty Images

He did not log any income from what he referred to in his returns as "referee services". The Tory leader has a well-known side hustle as a football referee in the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) but was sidelined by injury last year.

Key political figures who have not published their tax returns include Rishi Sunak, opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer, former PMs Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, as well as Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar. It is likely they will now come under increasing public pressure to do so.

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn were the last leaders to publish their tax returns, although May only published hers up to 2016 when she was battling to replace David Cameron as Prime Minister. She has since gone on to earn vast sums as a speechmaker.

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