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Whole of SNP would welcome an end to police inquiry into finances – Humza Yousaf

Scotland’s First Minister has told the BBC he would welcome an end to the police inquiry into the SNP’s funding and finances, as the anniversary of the arrest of the party’s former chief executive approaches.

Friday marks a year since the arrest of Peter Murrell – husband of former first minister Nicola Sturgeon – as part of Operation Branchform, Police Scotland’s investigation into how £600,000 of crowdfunding for campaigning for Scottish independence was spent.

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

SNP finances investigation
Police erected a forensic tent outside the home of Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon (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 Humza Yousaf replaced Ms Sturgeon as First Minister and in the following days it emerged that a luxury camper van, thought to be worth about £110,000, had been seized by police investigating the party’s finances.

SNP finances investigation
Officers from Police Scotland at the SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh (Lesley Martin/PA)

Asked this week if he is frustrated over the length of time being taken by the inquiry, Mr Yousaf told BBC Scotland: “Well, 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.

“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.”