Sturgeon: ‘I didn’t foresee unfolding nightmare’
Nicola Sturgeon in parliament today and Colin Beattie
The SNP’s former leader Nicola Sturgeon has denied she had been aware of the unfolding crisis around the party’s finances when she decided to resign.
She said it was “not the easiest time” and was frustrated that she could not say more about events of the last few weeks.
Her comments in a flustered interview in the corridors of the Scottish parliament came after the party’s treasurer said he knew nothing about the party’s purchase of a £110,000 luxury motorhome.
Asked by journalists about the motorhome – seized by the police as part of enquiries into the party’s finances – Colin Beattie said: “I did not know about it”.
He later issued a clarifying statement that he was “unaware of the transaction at the time of purchase” but “became aware of the transaction via the 2021 annual accounts.”
Ms Sturgeon said that it was “frustrating” not being able to give her side of the story on the SNP finance crisis. She said she had not been questioned by the police, and that the issue was not a factor in her decision to stand down.
“I understand the view that some people might have that I knew this was all about to unfold and that’s why I walked away,” she said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. I could not have anticipated in my worst nightmares what would have unfolded over the past few weeks.:”
Ms Sturgeon added: “What I will say up front is that I’m not going to go into any detail that impinges on a live police investigation.
“There are many questions that I would want to be able to answer and in the fullness of time I hope I will answer but it would be wrong and inappropriate for me to go into any detail of what the police are currently investigating.”
She added that “now is not the easiest time” and said she had been working from home.
Ms Sturgeon answered questions from journalists after Mr Beattie spoke for the first time since he was released without charge by Police Scotland following his arrest.
He stood down as party treasurer after being in the role since 2004 and at the weekend was replaced by interim treasurer Stuart McDonald, the MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East.
According to SNP sources, the Niesmann + Bischoff vehicle was purchased around January 2021 – during a brief period Douglas Chapman took on the treasurer duties – and was due to be used as a campaign battlebus.
However, it remained static at the Dunfermline home of Ms Sturgeon’s mother-in-law until being removed by the police as part of the Operation Branchform inquiry.
At the time, Ms Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell was in custody and the couple’s Glasgow home, along with party headquarters in Edinburgh, was searched by police.
Mr Murrell was also released without charge, pending further investigation. He had previously been the SNP’s chief executive since 2001.
Mr Beattie, who returned as returned as treasurer in June 2021, refused to comment on whether he resigned before he was sacked.
He said that as the investigation was ongoing “there’s very little I can say.”
The Midlothian North and Musselburgh MSP insisted the SNP is financially “in the black” and the party is a “going concern”.
He said the difficulties in finding a new auditor to replace Johnston Carmichael which resigned last September was “a market situation”.
The SNP Westminster group is at risk of missing out on £1.2 million from Westminster authorities, known as short money, if it fails to submit audited accounts by 31 May and the Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has admitted the timetable is tight.