Yousaf and Forbes urge SNP members to stay with party after auditors disclosure


The new leader of the Scottish National party, Humza Yousaf, and his closest rival for the position, Kate Forbes, have urged party members to stay the course as further accusations of secrecy and financial mismanagement engulf the party.

On Tuesday, Yousaf revealed that the SNP’s auditors quit six months ago, a fact none of the leadership contenders were made aware of during the campaign to replace Nicola Sturgeon, raising significant questions about transparency under the former chief executive Peter Murrell.

Last Wednesday, Murrell – who is married to Sturgeon – was arrested by police investigating the party’s handling of about £600,000 of donations to a campaign fund for a second independence referendum, and searches were carried out at their home in Glasgow and at the SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh.

Murrell was released without charge pending further investigation after almost 12 hours of questioning.

On Tuesday evening, the new SNP leader and first minister released a video message aimed at party members in which he acknowledged the difficulties of recent weeks but urged members to stay united.

“Despite the difficulties of the past weeks, there’s not a party in the land that isn’t looking at our support in the polls or indeed our membership numbers with envy.”

Writing in the National on Wednesday morning, Kate Forbes, who was narrowly beaten to the leadership with 48% of the members’ vote, was more blunt, urging members not to quit after the maelstrom of revelations she described as causing “shock, confusion and hurt” among party loyalists.

Forbes also called for “decisive and immediate action on internal matters”.

“That could start with a report into the auditors’ resignation, followed by other actions to boost transparency. After all, sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

During an event in Leith on Tuesday, Yousaf said the auditors had resigned “round about October of last year”. It was later clarified that the firm Johnston Carmichael told the party in September it would not be able to conduct the audit due in July 2023.

Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Jackie Baillie, said the latest revelation “stinks to high heaven”, adding: “It is deeply worrying if they have been unable to replace the auditors in all this time. It is time for the secrecy to end.”

A spokesperson for the SNP said: “We have informed the Electoral Commission of the difficulty in identifying replacement auditors and the national treasurer has made the party’s finance and audit committee aware.”

In a further development, after the Mail on Sunday reported that a motorhome owned by Murrell was seized by police at his mother’s home in Fife, the Guardian understands that the vehicle was bought to act as a campaign bus during lockdown. Its seizure has not been confirmed by Police Scotland.

The Police Scotland investigation was launched in July 2021 after complaints about the SNP’s handling of more than £600,000 in donations raised by the party ostensibly to campaign for and hold a second independence referendum.

It is alleged the money was used instead to help with the party’s day-to-day running costs. The SNP’s accounts for 2021 showed it had a deficit of £752,000 and £145,000 in cash. The party stated all the donations were “earmarked” for independence-related campaigning.

Last year it emerged that Murrell gave a loan of more than £100,000 to the SNP to help with “cashflow” after the 2021 Holyrood election campaign.

Murrell resigned as SNP chief executive during the leadership campaign last month after the media were given misleading information about a dramatic drop in party membership.