The Scottish National Party (SNP) is being investigated by police who are looking into where funds meant for a second independence referendum have gone.

The inquiry, named Operation Branchform, was launched in 2021 but ramped up in April as former chief executive Peter Murrell, Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, and SNP treasurer Colin Beattie were arrested.

Launched in 2021 following seven complaints to police, detectives are looking into whether £666,953 of money raised since 2017 specifically for a second independence referendum has been improperly spent on other activities.

Police are also looking into a loan of £107,620 made in June 2021 by Mr Murrell, while he was chief executive of the party.

The loan was reported late to the Electoral Commission and two repayments were made later that year by the SNP, but there was £60,000 left outstanding.

Who is at the centre of the investigation?

Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, who was made the SNP’s chief executive in 1999, was the first person to be arrested as part of the inquiry.

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The 58-year-old was briefly acting party treasurer in 2021 when Douglas Chapman quit after less than a year because he “had not received the support or financial information required to carry out the fiduciary duties of national treasurer”.

Mr Murrell, who married Ms Sturgeon in 2010, was arrested on 5 April and their home was searched by police for nearly two days, while a £100,000 motorhome owned by the SNP was seized from outside his mother’s home.

He was released without charge pending further investigation.

As well as the money raised for a second independence campaign, police are also looking into a loan of £107,620 made in June 2021 by Mr Murrell which has not been fully repaid.

Former finance professional Mr Beattie first became the SNP’s treasurer in 2004 before having a brief break after an internal election voted in Douglas Chapman in 2020.

But he was back in the role in 2021 after Mr Chapman quit for not being provided with the tools he needed to do the job, with Mr Murrell taking on the role in the interim.

Mr Beattie was arrested on 18 March and held in custody for about 11 hours before being released without charge pending investigation.

He stepped down as treasurer and as a member of Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee the next day while the investigation is carried out.

Read more:
SNP auditors resigned six months ago
Yousaf ‘didn’t know about SNP motorhome until he became party leader’

First Minister for more than eight years, Ms Sturgeon suddenly quit in February, saying the job “takes its toll on you and all around you”.

She later denied her husband’s impending arrest was anything to do with her decision and said she had “no prior knowledge” he was to be arrested.

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Sturgeon: Last few days ‘difficult’

Ms Sturgeon said she has not been questioned by the police but would “fully cooperate” if they do want to quiz her.

The former leader has kept her head down since her husband’s arrest, cancelling a few planned appearances.

Seen as the continuity candidate after Ms Sturgeon stepped down, Mr Yousaf won the leadership election on 29 March.

A long-time Sturgeon supporter, the former justice and health secretary promised “more openness, more transparency around how we do things” after Mr Murrell was arrested.

He said he was unaware the SNP owned the motorhome confiscated by police until he became party leader.

Mr Yousaf also said he had not been aware the SNP’s long-standing auditors, Johnston Carmichael, had quit in September 2022 and there is yet to be a replacement.

Asked whether it was wrong of Ms Sturgeon not to reveal to SNP leadership candidates the lack of auditors, Mr Yousaf responded: “Frankly it would have been helpful to know beforehand.”