Police Scotland is under pressure to act after Nicola Sturgeon disclosed she and her husband had not yet been spoken to as part of an investigation into alleged missing SNP funds.
The First Minister, in one of her final interviews before she formally steps down, said that she would not comment on the ongoing investigation, but denied any knowledge about a potential interview with the force.
Police are investigating what happened to £600,000 of “missing” funds the SNP raised from party members to fight an independence referendum campaign.
It comes amid mounting concern about the management of the SNP and the dominance Ms Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell had over the party.
On Monday, the SNP leadership contest descended into farce after a candidate suggested that members had been misled about the state of the party before they voted.
Mr Murrell was forced to resign as SNP chief executive last week after it emerged 30,000 members had quit since 2021.
The police investigation centres around complaints made by SNP supporters after accounts lodged with Companies House in 2020 appeared to show the party only had £97,000 in the bank.
The SNP claimed £600,000 donated by supporters had been “earmarked” for use in a future independence campaign through an internal process that would “ensure that pound for pound that total will be spent on that campaign”.
Only three days before Ms Sturgeon quit last month, it emerged that the force is stepping up its inquiry, titled Operation Branchform, and has started contacting key witnesses to take substantive statements.
It also emerged that Mr Murrell loaned £107,620 the day after a party leadership meeting discussed the police investigation.
However, asked by Sky News if she had heard about a potential interview with police, Ms Sturgeon said: “No. I wouldn’t comment on any ongoing police investigation and I am not going to comment on this one.” The SNP has previously denied any wrongdoing around party finances.
‘Potential political influence’
On Monday night, Russell Findlay, the Scottish Tories’ shadow community safety minister, demanded action from the police. He said: “There have already been questions posed about potential political influence around this investigation. It seems entirely proper that Police Scotland would seek to interview those central to the case.”
Ms Sturgeon insisted the investigation played no part in her decision to step down as First Minister. However, there are mounting concerns about the dominance she and Mr Murrell had over the party.
Mr Murrell and Murray Foote, the SNP’s head of communications, resigned at the end of last week over inaccuracies about the party’s membership.
The SNP finally disclosed last Thursday that 30,000 members had quit since the end of 2021, but it is thought that the vast majority of ballots in the leadership contest have already been cast.
Campaign insiders argued that members would have been much more likely to have voted for the two “change” candidates, Ash Regan and Kate Forbes, had they known about the real state of the SNP.
Ms Regan argued that voters should be allowed to change their ballots, but this has been rejected by the party.
On Monday, Ms Regan told a LBC leadership debate there was a “significant amount of voter regret”.
Insiders in her campaign said they had been inundated with emails from members furious that they had cast their ballots for Mr Yousaf without knowing about a exodus from the party.
Ms Regan said she had “no plans to take any court action” to halt the contest but it is understood a senior barrister has provided her with an opinion backing her case if she went to court.
Sources close to Ms Regan’s camp insisted she had a “cast iron” legal case for an injunction to get the election paused, should she take the “nuclear option”.
But Mike Russell, the SNP’s acting chief executive, said: “It would clearly be massively disruptive and confusing for members to be able to recall their ballot – something that is not done in any public election and which cyber security experts have advised, most recently to the Conservatives when they considered an online ability to change a vote, could be subject to hacking attempts.”
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “A report which outlines enquiries already undertaken and seeks further instruction has been submitted to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). We are working closely with COPFS as the investigation continues.”