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Is Nicola Sturgeon the next domino to fall in SNP probe?

Nicola Sturgeon was arrested and released without charge last year as part of the police investigation into SNP funding. Credit: Getty

April 19, 2024 - 11:30am

So, there we have it. According to the BBC, Peter Murrell, Nicola Sturgeon’s husband and until last year the Chief Executive of the Scottish National Party for more than two decades, has been charged with embezzlement as part of an investigation into Nationalist finances.

At this point, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising. If there was any good explanation for where the missing £600,000 — raised for an independence-fighting fund — had gone, it would not have taken three years (and counting) to produce it. Nor would the police likely have felt the need to dig up the ex-first minister’s garden.

But it still is surprising, somehow. When Operation Branchform (the police probe into the SNP’s finances) kicked off, it felt very likely the explanation would be, if not lawful, at least mundane: a party leadership realising there wasn’t going to be another referendum anytime soon and spending the pot on other campaigning or operating expenses. Not, as the BBC seems to imply, stealing it.

Murrell is of course innocent until proven guilty, and we have not seen the police’s evidence. Nor do we yet know if they intend to charge anyone else — most obviously, his wife.

Thus, attention will now be drawn once again to the outwardly strange dynamics of the House of Sturgeon.

Why strange? Well, during the fallout from the Scottish Government’s disastrous mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against Alex Salmond, one of the key questions examined by the Scottish Parliament was who knew what and when.

Sturgeon was the SNP’s all-powerful leader, and Murrell its longstanding chief executive; the governmental, political, and organisational leadership of the Scottish Nationalists lived in the same house. Yet the then-First Minister’s story relied on the idea that the pair maintained strict informational barriers about party matters.

If the charges against Murrell stick, we will doubtless hear the same thing again. But it will be even less plausible than before. After all, it’s one thing for a political power-couple to be ultra-conscientious about work matters. It’s quite another for them to be totally uninterested in their own finances.

Obviously, a thief (if thief there was) might hide their handywork. But in 2021 Murrell loaned the SNP over £100,000 to “assist with cashflow”, without properly declaring it. Earlier donations totalling £15,000 may be subject to a second official investigation.

Is it really possible that he could donate a six-figure sum to anything without having to explain the decision to his wife? Or that, as SNP leader, she wouldn’t have been kept up to date with the party’s financial situation by her own husband? We shall see.

Then there’s the question of where this leaves the SNP. Politically, it could be extraordinarily damaging. Not just for the normal reasons that having a venerated former leader implicated in scandal is damaging, nor merely because Humza Yousaf, the embattled First Minister, explicitly pitched himself as Sturgeon’s heir when he ran for the leadership.

If the referendum-fighting fund was stolen (and nothing has yet been proven), it means that at some point the Nationalist leadership lost faith in independence. Even as Sturgeon kept trying to pretend that the next big push was just around the corner, senior officers were quietly selling off the armoury and planning a comfortable retirement.

Should that be the case, then it is fitting — indeed, deeply karmic — that the fall of the House of Sturgeon was precipitated not by anything Unionists did, but instead by outraged separatist donors who, having finally had enough of the SNP’s autocratic leadership and its refusal to give them answers, went to the police in the first place.


Henry Hill is Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome.

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Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
1 month ago

ANC = Alba National Congress. I heard Jacob Zuma has applied for membership.

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
1 month ago

In the relevant period, the SNP lost about 50,000 members. Membership of the SNP costs £12 per year.
£12 X 50,000 = £600,000.
If the parrty’s big (mis-)spenders were unaware of the resulting income shortfall, they might have thought that future income would be sufficient to cover up any misappropriation of the ring-fenced money. The high heid’yin (that’s Scots for Head Honcho) may have realised what was happening when he handed over the dosh (same amount of dosh as the value of the campervan: that’s another arithmetic coincidence).

A D Kent
A D Kent
1 month ago

It’s not just a question of who new what and when when it comes to the Salmond trial. It was who knew who and what each who knew of the accusations of the other whos and whether some of the whos pressured the other whos to make bogus claims. One of them was as clear a case of perjury as you could ever wish to see.

Also re the Sturgeon/Murrell case, don’t forget to give full respect to the Rev. Stuart Campbell of WingsOverScotland, who broke all of this months before the MSM paid any notice.

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Amen to that, re: WoS.

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
1 month ago

During their rise to power and (in their perception) the cusp of independence the SNP have been terribly smug about how different they and Scotland (the two entities being apparently indistinguishable in their minds) are from the cess-pool in Westminster.
Funny how things turn out.

Mark epperson
Mark epperson
1 month ago

Let’s all hope so.

kate Dunlop
kate Dunlop
1 month ago

The government in Scotland- as in the rest of Great Britain no longer exists to serve the public. The purpose of the ruling political class and their assorted bag carriers is to maintain their privilege and to keep their snouts in the trough. They care not a jot for anyone but themselves and will not be held to account for their behaviour.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
1 month ago

I’d be careful; this looks like analysis and could be criminal under Scottish law.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

I used to think that Scottish law had some attractive ideas compared with English law, such as house purchase. My admiration is slowly being eroded.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

What specifically is potentially criminal in this article ?
I’m not seeing it. The author is very careful not to assume any verdict – everything is stated conditionally (“if X then probably Y”).
Surely there’s not yet another ridiculous piece of Scottish law that attempts to outlaw free speech ?

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

I was being a little bit tongue in cheek regarding Scotland’s new contempt of court laws (2016?). They were updated to include analysis of evidence.
Former Ambassador Craig Murray was actually imprisoned under these new laws for commentary on the Alex Salmond hearings.

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

Well, this is Scotland, so… I think he is right in being worried. I was surprised to see the article at all, and with the comment section open.

Louise Henson
Louise Henson
1 month ago

Can’t the ex First Minister use the Rayner defence? “We lived in different houses…”?

John Howes
John Howes
1 month ago
Reply to  Louise Henson

Or Lammy’s favourite. A ‘blended’ relationship!

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  Louise Henson

She doesn’t need a defence. Yet.

David Giles
David Giles
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

But he does!

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
1 month ago

When I heard this news I assumed the fix was in: Murrell agrees to go down in exchange for Sturgeon not being charged. We’ll see.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
1 month ago

Oh look. After all the whining about Trump Unherd have found a political trial that they approve of.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago

Unherd have expressed no approval of the trial of Murrell. Even Henry Hill has not actually approved of the trial merely discussed it. Nor am I aware of any whining about any Trump trial by Unherd.

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
1 month ago

I have a rather ignoble fantasy regarding Nicola Sturgeon. It goes like this. She’s found guilty of fiddling the books and purchasing camper vans and cutlery with other peoples money and is sent down to spend some time sewing mail bags as His Maj’s pleasure.
As she’s led to her cell, the warders explain to her, “Aye well, hen, its a bit crowded now due to lack of investment in the system by your old lot, so its four to a cell . . .”. They arrive at a steel door which swings open to reveal a tiny cell with four bunks and three 18 stone, tattooed, male crims wearing ill fitting wigs and nail varnish . . .
“But, never mind, eh, nice to have some company and I’m sure you girls will all get along just fine…” says the warder pushing Sturgeon into the cell.
The door slams with a clang.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
1 month ago

This is a deeply weird fantasy, laddie. Are you feeling alright?

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago

Lay off the plonk, mate. It’s doing harmful things to your head.

Don Holden
Don Holden
1 month ago

Those poor trannies – as if being in prison wasn’t bad enough !

Andrew H
Andrew H
1 month ago

If the SNP’s mad self-ID law had been enacted, this would have been a possibility. Of course, I and I’m sure you wouldn’t wish this on any woman,. but SNP/Green policy specifically made this possible. There’s a reason that the pressure group Keep Prisons Single Sex exists, though of course in a civilised society that hadn’t been captured by deranged wokeist ideology there would be no need for it. It shouldn’t need saying that males – however they identify – must be kept out of female prisons. Locking up any woman with males is a dystopian nightmare, but it sadly happens (in Ireland, for example): https://www.derrynow.com/news/derry-news/1372462/bill-stopping-males-being-housed-in-irish-female-prisons-passes-first-stage.html

Michael K
Michael K
1 month ago

The SNP gave up on independence in 2017.
Sturgeon could have easily been guaranteed indyref2 in exchange for giving Teresa May the support of all SNP MPs for her Brexit plans. Instead, she fought to try to stop Brexit even though the UKs EU membership would be none of Scotlands businessif we left the UK.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago

The only question is will she go to prison also.