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Yousaf vows ‘no interference’ as police probe into SNP finances continues

Scotland’s First Minister has vowed there will be no political interference with the police investigation into his party’s finances.

With Friday marking one year since Police Scotland arrested ex-SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, searching the home he shared with former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, Humza Yousaf spoke about the investigation.

Operation Branchform, Police Scotland’s investigation into the SNP’s finances, is ongoing, and Mr Yousaf made clear: “No-one is going to interfere in that investigation.

“Police investigations should be allowed to take place without any political interference whatsoever.”

Humza Yousaf
First Minister Humza Yousaf spoke about the Branchform investigation during a visit to Dingwall on Thursday (Jane Barlow/:PA)

Adding the probe will “take as long as the investigation takes”, Mr Yousaf said: “There’s always challenges, circumstances like this. That’s not what I’m focused on.”

Instead he said he is focused on issues such as tackling poverty and problems in the NHS.

Speaking during a campaign visit to Dingwall in the Highlands, the First Minister said: “My focus in the year has been on the fact we’ve been able to implement a national council tax freeze, we’ve been able to, through anti-poverty measures, been able to lift an estimated 100,0000 children out of poverty.

“The fact is we have seen recent figures last month, record numbers of junior doctors joining the NHS.

“That’s where my focus is, as opposed to things I can’t control, such as police investigations.”

Mr Yousaf had earlier told the BBC he would welcome an end to the police inquiry, which was launched in July 2021 but took a dramatic turn on April 5, 2023 when Mr Murrell was arrested at the home he shares with Ms Sturgeon outside Glasgow.

Police searched the house and erected a blue forensic tent outside the property, with searches also carried out at the SNP’s Edinburgh HQ.

SNP finances investigation
Police erected a forensic tent outside the home of Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon last April while the property was searched (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Mr Murrell was questioned for several hours before being released without charge pending further investigation.

The following month the party’s then treasurer, Colin Beattie, was arrested then released on the same basis, and stood down from his post.

On June 11, Ms Sturgeon was arrested in relation to the inquiry, voluntarily attending an interview before being released later the same day, pending further investigation.

She then posted on social media that she knew “beyond doubt that I am in fact innocent of any wrongdoing”.

Mr Murrell’s arrest came less than a week after Mr Yousaf replaced Ms Sturgeon as First Minister, and in the following days it emerged a luxury camper van, thought to be worth about £110,000, had been seized by police investigating the party’s finances.

Asked this week if he is frustrated over the length of time being taken by the inquiry, Mr Yousaf told BBC Scotland: “I think people will realise that all of us in the SNP would like to see a conclusion to Operation Branchform.

“I think that’s stating the obvious, but of course it’s up to Police Scotland to determine how long that takes and for them to have the space and time to investigate thoroughly, and I don’t intend to interfere in that.#

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SNP finances investigation
A police officer removing material from SNP headquarters in Edinburgh last April (Lesley Martin/PA)

“It’s for Police Scotland to take as much time as they require in order to investigate thoroughly.”

Police Scotland confirmed they were investigating in July 2021 after seven complaints were made around donations to the SNP, following allegations that £600,000 raised for campaigning towards Scottish independence was diverted elsewhere.

The party said “all sums raised for independence campaigning will be spent on independence campaigning”.

Police Scotland’s then chief constable Sir Iain Livingstone confirmed in July 2023 that the investigation had “moved beyond what some of the initial reports were”, saying this is not uncommon in financial inquiries.

Speaking shortly before retiring from his role, he said he would not put an “absolute timeframe” on the length of the investigation but that it would be “proportionate and timeous”.

The following month he said “the sooner this investigation is concluded, the better for everyone involved”.

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “As the investigation remains ongoing we are unable to comment.”

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: “The fact that this investigation is still going on a year on from the arrest of Peter Murrell only confirms the seriousness of what the police are probing.

“The picture surrounding the SNP’s finances has become increasingly murky and senior SNP figures must continue to co-operate fully with this investigation.”