SNP MSPs are threatening to withhold their £250-a-month membership subscriptions in protest if the party pays Peter Murrell’s legal fees.
The former SNP chief executive, who is married to Nicola Sturgeon, was arrested on Wednesday following a police investigation into the party finances.
New First Minister Humza Yousaf has said the SNP may have “obligations” to pay the legal costs of Murrell, who resigned last month over withholding the truth about the party’s real number of members.
The party is reported to have hired leading lawyer Stuart Munro, whose areas of expertise include “white collar crime and associated litigation” and “allegations of financial crime”.
But several MSPs are threatening to withhold their monthly subscriptions if the party pays Murrell’s legal fees. Payments from SNP MSPs and MPs to the party, which has already been hit by the loss of 30,000 members from the party, amount to £324,000 a year.
An SNP insider said: “The party sub is meant to support campaigning but the questions over the use of money at SNP HQ mean the MSPs are wondering how their cash is being spent – especially as there is now talk of the party spending a fortune on expensive ‘white collar crime’ lawyers and possibly paying Peter’s legal fees.
“Veteran MSPs who fought all their lives for independence are aghast, with some now talking about with-holding the money from HQ – instead diverting it to their branches, where it can be spent on actual campaigning.
“Many MSPs have long been concerned about the HQ operation, which operates in its own bubble and treats party members, including parliamentarians, with a fair degree of disdain. This is the last straw, though.”
A Police Scotland investigation into £660,000 raised specifically for Scottish independence campaigning was launched in 2021 after it was alleged money had been diverted from a “ring-fenced” fund.
On Wednesday, police searched the home of Murrell and Sturgeon in Uddingston, Lanarkshire, erecting a large tent over the couple’s front door and putting tape around the garden.
Murrell was arrested and released without charge after nearly 12 hours of questioning but the investigation into SNP finances is continuing.
The SNP’s Edinburgh headquarters next to the Scottish Parliament was also searched by police.
The searches were carried out just a month after Sturgeon announced her resignation as first minister and SNP leader after more than eight years in the role.
Yousaf said the party may have “obligations” to pay Murrell’s legal fees but stressed it was an issue he would have to “reflect on”.
Munro is managing director of legal firm Livingstone Brown. According to its website, Munro’s “main interest is in white collar crime and associated litigation”. He has represented Glasgow Rangers and disgraced former News Of The World editor Andy Coulson.
Meanwhile, the party’s president, Mike Russell, has admitted the SNP is facing its biggest crisis in 50 years. The former minister also said he does not think independence could be achieved “right now”.
Russell said he would support Yousaf, who had positioned himself as the “continuity candidate” in the leadership race.
Russell said: “I’ll do as much as I can but it’s true that the last few weeks have been pretty wearing. All I can do is put my trust in working with others to get it right. Like it or not, the party has chosen Humza to do this and I want to help him in that as much as I can.
“Parties and institutions are fallible. In a sense, though, it’s a case of ‘The King is Dead, Long Live the King’. That’s the way it’s got to be.”
It was also reported yesterday that SNP deputy leader Keith Brown wrote a report in 2021 with proposals for greater transparency of the party’s finances, including a “monthly written summary of income and expenditure”.
But, according to SNP sources, the party hierarchy, including Peter Murrell, shelved the report.
On Friday, it emerged the firm that audited the SNP’s accounts for a decade had resigned. Accountancy firm Johnston Carmichael said it took the decision after a “review of our client portfolio and existing resources and commitments”.
Large political parties are required to submit independently-audited accounts to the Electoral Commission each year. The party’s treasurer is now seeking another auditor in order to comply with Electoral Commission rules.
Asked about SNP MSPs threatening to withhold their monthly subs, a party spokesperson said: “The contribution by parliamentarians is set by SNP conference, not by party headquarters. Spending on campaigning is outlined in the annual accounts.”
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