Former SNP treasurer Colin Beattie is to take on the role again following the controversial resignation of Dunfermline and West Fife MSP Douglas Chapman and a growing row over the party’s finances.
Mr Beattie, MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh, held the post from 2004 to last year before losing an internal election to Mr Chapman – the only other candidate – and has now accepted an invitation to return to the job as he finished runner-up.
It comes after Mr Chapman stood down last month in the midst of growing questions over the whereabouts of £600,000 raised by SNP activists to campaign for Scottish independence, claiming he was not given enough information to do the role.
He wrote on social media: “Despite having a resounding mandate from members to introduce more transparency into the party’s finances, I have not received the support or financial information to carry out the fiduciary duties of National Treasurer.
“Regretfully I have resigned with immediate effect.”
Despite having a resounding mandate from members to introduce more transparency into the party’s finances, I have not received the support or financial information to carry out the fiduciary duties of National Treasurer. Regretfully I have resigned with immediate effect 1/2
— Douglas Chapman MP 🏴 (@DougChapmanSNP) May 29, 2021
Deputy first minister John Swinney said he does not know what prompted Mr Chapman’s decision and he has since been unavailable to speak to journalists to explain his reasons for standing down in further detail.
Earlier this month, party leader Nicola Sturgeon denied claims that police are investigating a running controversy over how donations solicited by the SNP for an independence campaign fundraiser in 2017 were used.
The money was raised through SNP fundraising websites, with the party specifying it would be ring-fenced for a future referendum campaign.
It is understood some 13,000 donations were made as a result of the appeals and it has been widely reported the party raised around £600,000.
However despite no new vote taking place, the last set of SNP accounts to the end of 2019 showed just £96,000 in the bank, leading to questions over whether it has already been used to prop up other spending by the party.
David Henry, former secretary of the SNP’s Sighthill and Stenhouse branch in Edinburgh, was one of two people to allege criminality over the fundraising drive and has since been interviewed by officers.
Resignations and refunds
The controversy also led to the resignation of five senior officials – including two MPs – and, reportedly, around 60 requests for refunds.
It has been revealed SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, intervened to refund money to one ex-SNP member who threatened to contact police over the row.
According to emails seen by the Sunday Mail, the money was immediately handed back following the threat, with Mr Murrell responding: “The National Treasurer has approved your refund and the bank transfer of £40 will be processed today.”
Former branch secretary David Henry, who left the party and launched an unsuccessful legal action over internal rule changes, said he raised the donations issue with police because he believes the public – not just SNP members – have been misled over the cash.
He told the BBC: “It’s not in the accounts, either in 2017, 2018 or 2019.
“It’s nowhere to be seen and anyone who bothers to read the accounts will see that there isn’t enough money in the bank, any bank account for that matter. According to the last accounts published in 2019, there is not enough money to cover £593,000.
“So the question mark is where did that money go, what was it spent on and who authorised it.”
‘Money hasn’t gone missing’
Police Scotland has confirmed it is assessing a complaint about alleged financial irregularity made on March 25 “to determine if an investigation is required”.
While some in the party privately concede that the reports are not a good look, the leadership insists its finances are in fine order and has promised all the money raised for the independence campaign will be spent on that purpose.
Donations collected by the party are all processed through the SNP’s main bank account but bosses say they keep a record of what is collected for a specific purpose so even when cash dwindles, an equivalent sum will still be used for that cause.
Speaking earlier this month, Ms Sturgeon said: “Money hasn’t gone missing. All money goes through the SNP accounts independently and fully audited. We don’t hold separate accounts, we’re under no legal requirement to do that.
“Our accounts are managed on a cash flow basis but every penny we raise to support the campaign for independence will be spent on the campaign for independence.”
Mr Beattie, who officially took up his role on May 30, is expected to present draft accounts for 2020 – including an update on the independence referendum funds – to the party’s National Executive Committee on Saturday.
An SNP spokesman said its financial position is healthier than at any time in its history “thanks to the generosity of our members and supporters, and our political success”.
He added: “Delivering transparency for our members and donors is of paramount importance to us. However, we will robustly challenge any allegations from political opponents that seek to cast doubt on the integrity of the SNP’s finances.”