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SNP finances scandal must be investigated by parliamentary inquiry

Events surrounding the probe into the SNP finances scandal must be investigated by a parliamentary inquiry, the Scottish Conservatives have demanded.

The party’s chief whip Alexander Burnett has written to Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone outlining his calls for a new committee to be set up around the Operation Branchform Investigation.

The committee would follow a similar process to that used to carry out an inquiry into how harassment complaints against Alex Salmond were handled, and would have to be agreed by the parliament’s Business Bureau.

Alexander Burnett says an inquiry is needed to “get to the bottom of” the length and process of the investigation, with it being nearly two years since it was opened by Police Scotland in July 2021.

He has also submitted an Urgent Question to press the SNP once again to answer questions on the scandal in Parliament.

The chief whip’s call also comes after revelations emerged that there had been a two-week delay in a warrant being granted by the Crown Office to allow Police Scotland to raid the home of Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell.

Police Scotland requested a warrant on 20 March – two days after Peter Murrell resigned as SNP chief executive – but this was not confirmed by the Crown Office until April 3, after the SNP leadership contest had ended.

First Minister Humza Yousaf told the Today programme that he did not believe there would be “any particular reason out of the ordinary” that the approval would have taken two weeks.

Alexander Burnett says that the Lord Advocate is “hamstrung” by her dual role of being head of the Crown Office and chief legal adviser to the Scottish Government.

He added that this “impossible position” means that only a “robust” inquiry will uncover the necessary detail on why this delay occurred as well as other unanswered questions on the timeline since July 2021.

Scottish Conservative chief whip Alexander Burnett MSP, said: “Given that we are now almost two years on from the police investigation into the SNP’s murky financial situation being opened, the time is right for a robust parliamentary inquiry to be set up.

“Progress on the investigation has moved at a very slow pace and the public deserve answers on this and other recent revelations relating to this case.

“There is a clear parliamentary precedent for such an inquiry to be set up while a criminal investigation is continuing. MSPs rightly decided that a parliamentary inquiry was needed into how harassment complaints against Alex Salmond had been handled, while police continued their own inquiries.

“Following the revelation that there was a two-week delay in the Crown approving a Police Scotland warrant to raid the home of Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell, there are a lot of serious questions we need to get to the bottom of.

“The Lord Advocate is hamstrung by her conflict of interest on this matter due to her dual role. She is in an impossible position as both the head of the Crown Office and chief legal adviser to the SNP-Green government.

“That only reaffirms the need for an inquiry into these delays when answers are simply not going to be forthcoming from senior Scottish government figures.

“I urge fellow MSPs alongside me on the Parliament’s business bureau to back my calls for this new committee to give the public confidence that the whole truth around this increasingly murky affair involving Scotland’s ruling party will be laid bare once and for all.”