SNP's internal crisis got bigger after Nicola Sturgeon is arrestedJune 11, 2023
Not even episodes of Taggart were ever this crazy… The SNP’s internal crisis has just got a lot bigger after Nicola Sturgeon is arrested by police, writes EDDIE BARNES
This is beginning to make banana republics look boring. Nicola Sturgeon, the longest-serving first minister of Scotland – a leader who polls show is still the most popular politician north of the border – spent the day detained by police as a suspect in an investigation into her party’s finances.
The SNP’s internal crisis just got a lot bigger. Scotland is in turmoil.
In truth, the news of her arrest yesterday afternoon (conducted ‘by arrangement’, her spokesman declared) was not surprising to close observers of this remarkable scandal.
SNP insiders have for some weeks believed it was inevitable that Ms Sturgeon would, like her husband Peter Murrell, the party’s former chief executive, be interviewed by officers on Operation Branchform.
But when the news broke just after 2.30pm yesterday, it was still utterly shocking.
Nicola Sturgeon (pictured), the longest-serving first minister of Scotland, spent the day detained by police as a suspect in an investigation into her party’s finances
For many in Scotland, especially among the SNP’s fervent membership, Ms Sturgeon remains a quasi-presidential figure. This, for them, is like the rest of us discovering the King has been helping police with their inquiries. Over the weekend, a heat wave in Glasgow has given way to a few sporadic thunderstorms: Here was a lightning bolt to beat them all.
The shock was all the more intense because, for the past few weeks, Ms Sturgeon has begun to resurface, thereby giving the impression to many Scots that the investigation into her party had passed her by. To recap, that probe had, in April, shrouded her home outside Glasgow in a police tent as officers scoured through the belongings owned by her and Mr Murrell. It also led to the former treasurer of the SNP, Colin Beattie, being arrested. Both men were subsequently released without charge.
Police are looking into the whereabouts of £600,000 of donations, given by nationalist supporters to finance a second referendum on independence. That referendum hasn’t happened. But the SNP top brass have been spending money nonetheless. Their splurge includes the purchase of a £120,000 top of the range motor home, which police seized in April from where it was parked outside the house of Mr Murrell’s mother.
Episodes of Taggart were never this crazy. But Ms Sturgeon has, characteristically, played it calm. The police investigation had absolutely nothing – nothing – to do with her abrupt decision to quit as First Minister in February, she insisted. In May, she was photographed in London where she received a gong at the Rainbow Honours Awards for her stance on transgender issues.
SNP insiders believed it was inevitable that Ms Sturgeon would, like her husband Peter Murrell (right), the party’s former chief executive, be interviewed by officers on Operation Branchform
The news of her arrest yesterday afternoon was not surprising to close observers of this remarkable scandal, writes Eddie Barnes
Even on Saturday, just a few hours before her arrest, she was tweeting chirpily to reveal she had passed her written driving test. ‘Step one complete,’ she declared. The message was clear: While her party might be mired in allegations of corruption, here was a much-loved former leader getting on with life post-politics.
Once again, however, the relationship between Ms Sturgeon’s carefully cultivated public persona and the private reality has been revealed to be somewhat strained.
READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon is arrested as part of police probe into SNP’s finances: Ex-first minister is held in custody as she voluntarily attends interview weeks after arrest of her ex-SNP chief executive husband who was later released pending further investigation
Of course, we do not know whether Ms Sturgeon – who denies any wrongdoing – will be charged with anything. That will have to wait until police finish their investigation and send a report to Scotland’s prosecuting authorities. But while Scotland waits for the wheels of justice to turn, the political fall-out can already be measured.
Prior to yesterday, Ms Sturgeon’s allies believed she might be able to rise above the affair. Indeed her former media chief claimed the investigation was a ‘wild goose chase’. But Ms Sturgeon’s hopes of a new life – perhaps on the international political circuit – have been dashed for now.
Meanwhile, any prospect that her party might begin to rebuild in the wake of this scandal has been trashed as well. Only on Friday, responding to Boris Johnson’s resignation, the SNP leader and new First Minister Humza Yousaf stated that Scotland shouldn’t have to put up with such a ‘third-rate political opera’. He won’t be saying that any more. Forget third-rate: The SNP’s brand of soap opera is prime-time box office.
What a record: The SNP now has the ignominious record of having elected two former First Ministers, both of whom have been subsequently arrested (after standing trial for sexual harassment, Alex Salmond was found not guilty).
Whether or not Ms Sturgeon is charged, this scandal has already smashed the SNP’s reputation. And both Mr Salmond’s case and now Ms Sturgeon’s brush with the authorities have only added to the growing sense in Scotland that this is a party that’s been in power too long.
Mr Yousaf was facing awkward questions last night, amid opposition calls to suspend Ms Sturgeon until the probe into her role in the affair is over. This is precisely what the SNP did when other lesser MPs and MSPs were also in trouble with the law.
It is a stunning turn of events. Five months ago, Ms Sturgeon was the SNP. As a fall from grace goes, this one takes some beating.
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