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Revealed: SNP made £700,000 loss despite income of £58m since coming to power

© Kath FlanneryNicola Sturgeon delivers keynote speech at her last SNP conference as first minister in Aberdeen in October
Nicola Sturgeon delivers keynote speech at her last SNP conference as first minister in Aberdeen in October

The SNP is facing fresh questions after it emerged that the party made a £700,000 loss since sweeping to power 16 years ago.

Humza Yousaf, the SNP’s embattled first minister, was challenged by opposition politicians last night to explain the deficit despite an income of more than £58 million since 2007.

The disclosure came amid a Police Scotland investigation into alleged fundraising fraud by the SNP.

The departure of Colin Beattie MSP, who resigned last week as the party’s treasurer after he was questioned by detectives, followed the arrest of Peter Murrell, the SNP’s former chief executive, who is married to former first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Beattie was yesterday replaced by SNP MP Stuart McDonald, currently the party’s Westminster justice and immigration spokesman.

As the scandal engulfing the party intensifies, senior figures – including the SNP’s former Westminster leader, Ian Blackford – insist that the party’s finances are in “robust health”.

According to accounts filed annually with the Electoral Commission, the party declared a total income of £58,452,333 between 2007 and 2021. Total expenditure over the 15-year period was £59,158,110, suggesting a cashflow deficit of £705,000.

The figure does not take into account the value of fixed assets such as furniture and office equipment.

The documents show that SNP finances reached a high water mark in 2014 – with more than £7m income – as the party marched towards the independence referendum in September of that year.

There were 15 staff on the payroll but by 2021 this number had almost doubled to 27, pushing up the wage bill from £770,000 to almost £1.3m as income plummeted during the same period to £4.5m.

The accounts show that almost £22m has been spent on campaigning and conferences. The gathering of the party faithful at annual and spring events regularly turned a profit but this changed between 2018 and 2020 when conferences made a combined loss of more than £150,000.

The SNP’s biggest annual spend on conferences was in 2019 when it splashed out £833,000 but only generated income of £719,000.

“This raises even more questions about the murky state of the SNP’s finances,” said Craig Hoy, chairman of the Scottish Conservatives.

“There are serious questions for them to answer over their party’s financial management – which appear to have been prevalent ever since they came to power in Scotland. The bloated numbers within the Scottish Government has clearly rubbed off on SNP HQ as they also beefed up their operation to push for a divisive referendum.”

© Jane Barlow / PA
Humza Yousaf

On Friday, Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Tories, wrote to Yousaf, asking him to clarify whether the SNP was in danger of folding due to its financial problems.

It is unclear if the SNP will file its 2022 accounts on time after it emerged that Johnston Carmichael, the firm that audits the SNP, resigned six months ago.

Police Scotland’s investigation into the SNP’s alleged fundraising fraud – codenamed Operation Branchform – was launched in 2021 following complaints that £666,953 raised since 2017 specifically for a second independence referendum had been improperly spent on other activities.

The SNP insists that all money earmarked for independence campaigning is ring-fenced and has dismissed reports that up to £385,000 of funds may have been spent on refurbishing the party’s headquarters near the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

SNP insiders warn Humza Yousaf must drastically overhaul party to increase transparency

Earlier this month, police officers spent two days searching the Glasgow home of Murrell and Sturgeon.

They also searched the SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh.

A luxury £110,000 motorhome was seized by officers from outside a property in Dunfermline on the same morning Murrell was arrested.

He was later released without charge, pending further investigation.

The vehicle, reportedly earmarked for the SNP Holyrood election campaign in 2021 but never deployed after Covid restrictions were lifted, is understood to have been parked outside the home of Murrell’s 92-year-old mother since January 2021. It has since been moved to a police compound in Glasgow.

Beattie, 71, who was released without charge last week, said he would step back from his role on the public audit committee until the police investigation had concluded.

It is understood that at least one former SNP member was also interviewed by police last week – though not as a suspect – as detectives build a picture of the party’s finances.

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Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said “These astonishing revelations cast fresh doubt on the SNP’s claims. Regardless of what the police investigation uncovers, it’s clear the SNP has been has been far from transparent.”

The SNP said: “Following the influx in membership after the 2014 referendum, we boosted capacity, especially in our digital team, as well as making sure standalone areas such as conferences, local government, and member support had additional cover.

“This modest expansion of staff alongside the mass membership expansion has helped the SNP win election after election.”