Elections watchdog may impose auditor on SNP
Humza Yousaf: kept in dark about auditor resigning (pic: Terry Murden)
The Electoral Commission is close to imposing its own auditor on the SNP as the party struggles to meet a deadline for filing its accounts.
If the SNP does not accept the appointed auditor, the Commission could seek warrants from the courts to seize key financial records.
Talks involving senior figures at the elections watchdog have emerged as the SNP seeks new auditors following the resignation of Johnston Carmichael last September.
The Scottish firm’s decision to drop the SNP from its portfolio was not made known to leading figures in the party, including new leader Humza Yousaf, for several months.
If the SNP’s Westminster group does not produce signed off accounts by 31 May it risks losing £1.15 million in public funding, known as short money, to allow it to function.
Michael Power, professor of accounting at London School of Economics, told the Sunday Telegraph: “Auditors are increasingly concerned with their own reputation, and would be generally reluctant to take on a risky client, as the SNP has become.
“It could well be that the SNP accounts are not really ‘auditable’ at present. So much is wrong and has to be fixed that remedial work is needed before an audit is even possible.
“Hence, the SNP may be successful in finding someone to do that work of fixing, but they might reasonably request payment up front as the SNP could well be perceived as a credit risk now.”
He added: “This is a sad event for Scottish politics and discredits our democracy, which is already being steadily eroded.”
Chris Humphrey, professor of accounting at the University of Manchester, identified a number of unusual features in the party’s accounts including the way in which the £107,620 loan from former chief executive Peter Murrell had been recorded.
An entry for “motor vehicles” worth £80,632, believed to relate to the camper van seized by police from the home of Mr Murrell’s elderly mother, appears to have been recorded as “office/computer equipment” in the explanatory notes.
“As an auditor, would you really want to walk in to this nightmare scenario?” asked Dr Humphrey.
It emerged last week that Sue Ruddick, the SNP’s acting chief executive, had resorted to sending speculative generic emails to financial services firms in an attempt to find new auditors.
The Sunday Telegraph said the SNP had been approached for comment.