SNP funding investigation: full timeline of the SNP's finance issues - from Indyref2 fund to police probe

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Police have been investigating the finances of the SNP since 2021, when the first complaint was made.

The SNP has only just come out of a tough leadership election, ready to turn over a new leaf, but the woes have not stopped for Scotland's ruling party.

Today (18 April), SNP treasurer Colin Beattie has been arrested in connection with Police Scotland’s probe into the party’s finances and funding. This came just a fortnight after former chief executive Peter Murrell, husband of Nicola Sturgeon, was arrested as part of the same investigation. He was later released without charge.

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It subsequently emerged that the company which audited the SNP's accounts, Johnston Carmichael, had resigned from its role. The accountancy firm reportedly informed the SNP of its decision prior to both Murrell’s arrest and Humza Yousaf’s appointment as party leader, after reviewing its client portfolio.

The investigation into the SNP revolves around £660,000 worth of funding that was supposedly ring-fenced for a future independence campaign, but has allegedly been used to fund the party's day-to-day costs. Concerns have thus been raised that the cash has been spent improperly.

These latest developments in the ongoing scandal will likely be a headache for new First Minister and party leader Humza Yousaf, who will have been hoping to move on after cracks within the SNP came to the surface during the leadership contest. But it doesn’t look like things will be calming down any time soon.

So how exactly did the party find itself in this position? Here's the full timeline of the allegations against the SNP - and the police investigation into its funding and finances.

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The SNP are under investigation from Police Scotland amid a probe into party finances. (Credit: Getty Images)The SNP are under investigation from Police Scotland amid a probe into party finances. (Credit: Getty Images)
The SNP are under investigation from Police Scotland amid a probe into party finances. (Credit: Getty Images) | Getty

March 2017

Ahead of the 2017 General Election, Nicola Sturgeon launches an Indyref2 campaign. Peter Murrell, her husband and then-chief executive of the SNP, launched a fundraiser with a £1million target to fund the Indyref2 campaign.

July 2017

The fundraiser, which stands at £482,000, is shut down by the party. It comes after poorer-than-expected results at the General Election, with the SNP losing 21 seats. At this point, the SNP says that the money raised from the fundraiser will only be used to aid the independence campaign.

March 2021

Three members of the party’s finance and audit committee quit their roles. They cite a lack of transparency as their reason for leaving. One week later, Sean Clerkin, an independence activist, makes an official complaint to police over the party’s handling of the money raised from the Indyref2 fundraiser.

Sturgeon tells the National Executive Committee (NEC), the ruling body of the SNP, during a meeting that there are no worries over the SNP finances. She also warns members to be “very careful, all of us, about suggestions that there are problems with the party’s finances, because we depend on donors to donate”. Leaked footage from the meeting is released in April 2023.

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Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s ex-First Minister and former leader of the SNP. Credit: PANicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s ex-First Minister and former leader of the SNP. Credit: PA
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s ex-First Minister and former leader of the SNP. Credit: PA | PA

May 2021

On 6 May the SNP wins a fourth consecutive term in power after the 2021 Holyrood election. The party won 64 seats, an increase of one from the last election. 

At the end of the month, prominent MPs quit their roles. Douglas Chapman stands down as SNP treasurer, a role he held since 2020, and Joanna Cherry KC quits the ruling body. Both cite a lack of transparency as affecting their decision to stand down. Chapman said: “I had not received the support or financial information required to carry out the fiduciary duties of National Treasurer".

June 2021

Colin Beattie returns as treasurer of the party. He previously held the role between 2004 and 2020, when he was defeated by Chapman in internal elections. 

The SNP ruling body meets to discuss the Indyref2 fund. Beattie tells the meeting that £51,570 of the total £666,953 has been spent, with the party intending to spend an “amount equivalent” to the remainder on the Indyref2 campaign when required. 

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Peter Murrell gives a personal loan of £107,620 to the party to help out with a “cash flow” issue which arose after the 2021 Holyrood election. 

July 2021

Police Scotland launches an official probe into SNP finances and funding. The SNP states publicly that it denies any wrongdoing and will fully cooperate with the investigation.

May 2022

The police investigation is given the name Operation Branchform. The Daily Record reports that criminal complaints from at least 19 people have been made since 2021.

August 2022

Murrell’s loan to the SNP is declared late to the Electoral Commission, a first for the party since it came to power in Holyrood in 2007.  The SNP says that around one quarter of the Indyref2 fund has been spent. This equates to around £250,000. 

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December 2022

Police Scotland expands its investigation to include the loan given to the party by Murrell. 

Peter Murrell was arrested then later released without charge in connection with the probe into the SNP’s funding and finances. Credit: Getty ImagesPeter Murrell was arrested then later released without charge in connection with the probe into the SNP’s funding and finances. Credit: Getty Images
Peter Murrell was arrested then later released without charge in connection with the probe into the SNP’s funding and finances. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

February 2023

Sturgeon tells reporters that she “can’t recall” when she became aware that her husband had paid the party more than £100,000 to help out with finances. The party refuses to confirm whether the loan from Murrell and the Indyref2 fund are connected. 

Five days later, Sturgeon announces her shock resignation as party leader and First Minister of Scotland. In her resignation speech, she said: “Since my very first moments in the job, I have believed that part of serving well would be to know – almost instinctively – when the time is right to make way for someone else. And when that time came, to have the courage to do so – even if, to many across the country and in my party, it might feel too soon.

“In my head and my heart, I know that time is now. That it is right for me, for my party and for the country. And so today I am announcing my intention to step down as first minister and leader of my party.” On 24 February, Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan are confirmed to be on the ballot to replace Sturgeon. The leadership campaign lasts four and a half weeks.

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March 2023

After Forbes and Regan pushed for transparency in the leadership contest, the SNP released updated membership numbers. The numbers show that the party has lost around 30,000 members since 2021, despite denying the claims put to them by reporters months earlier. 

Communications chief Murray Foote resigns over the matter, as well as Murrell, who steps down as chief executive. Murrell took responsibility for misleading the media over membership numbers.

Yousaf is confirmed as the next SNP leader after winning the leadership election. The following day, he is confirmed as the next First Minister of Scotland after a vote in the Scottish Parliament. 

5 April 2023

Murrell is arrested by police officers at his home in connection with the ongoing investigation. His home in Uddingston near Glasgow, which he shared with Sturgeon, is searched by officers. Officers also searched “a number of addresses” on the same day. This included the SNP headquarters in Edinburgh, with officers seen carrying crates out of the premises. 

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Murrell is released from custody after being held for more than 11 hours. He was released without charge pending further investigation.

Newly-elected leader of the SNP and First Minister Humza Yousaf. Picture: Getty ImagesNewly-elected leader of the SNP and First Minister Humza Yousaf. Picture: Getty Images
Newly-elected leader of the SNP and First Minister Humza Yousaf. Picture: Getty Images

7 April 2023

Auditors Johnston Carmichael, who had worked with SNP for more than a decade, reported they had resigned as the party’s accountancy firm prior to Murrell's arrest. They informed the party they had “taken the decision to resign following a review of our client portfolio and existing resources and commitments”.

An SNP spokesman said: “We can confirm that Johnston Carmichael will not be providing audit services to the SNP this year. The national treasurer is undertaking a tendering process for alternative provision and we have advised the Electoral Commission of that position.” According to the BBC, Johnston Carmichael’s resignation took place before Mr Murrell’s arrest and prior to Yousaf’s appointment as party leader.

Yousaf is said to have only been informed that the SNP was without auditors after taking the reins of the party. He described the decision not to re-appoint auditors during the past six months "extraordinary".

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18 April 2023

SNP treasurer Colin Beattie is arrested in connection with the ongoing investigation into the funding and finances of the Scottish National Party and later released without charge. Police Scotland confirmed that the 71-year-old had been taken into custody to be questioned by detectives.

19 April 2023

Colin Beattie steps down as SNP treasurer and from his role on Holyrood's Public Audit Committee while the police investigation is ongoing. In a statement, he said: “On a personal level, this decision has not been easy, but it is the right decision to avoid further distraction to the important work being led by Humza Yousaf to improve the SNP’s governance and transparency. I will continue to cooperate fully with Police Scotland’s inquiries and it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further on a live case.”

Humza Yousaf takes temporary control of the party finances before a new treasurer is chosen.

25 April 2023

Speaking for the first time since his arrest, Colin Beattie tells reporters that during his time as treasurer he was unaware that a £100,000 motorhome was bought by the SNP. The Niesmann + Bischoff campervan was seized by police after officers conducted searches at various addresses earlier in the month to assist with their investigation.

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3 May

The SNP appoints new auditors to the party. Manchester-based AMS Accountants Group agree to take on the party's accounts ahead of a 31 May deadline.

Party accounts must be submitted by this date otherwise the SNP will miss out on £1.2million of public funding.

16 May

A Freedom of Information request by the Scottish Conservatives is released and reported in the Scottish Sun which detailed that police waited two weeks before being granted permission by the Crown Office to search the property of Sturgeon and Murrell.

Police Scotland had asked for the search warrant on 20 March, however it was only granted by the Crown Office a week after the SNP's leadership contest drew to a close on 3 April.

Yousaf, however, denied that the timing of the search warrant was in any way political, saying: "I don't believe there will be any particular reason out of the ordinary that it would take that time."

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