• Sunday, June 16, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Nicola Sturgeon asserts innocence after arrest in SNP funding probe

The arrest poses a significant embarrassment for the SNP, which has exerted substantial influence over Scottish politics for the majority of the past two decades

Former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Getty Images)

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

Former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was innocent following her arrest and subsequent detention for over seven hours on Sunday (11).

The arrest took place as part of a police investigation into the allocation of funds for her pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP).

The investigation centres around the fate of over £600,000 ($754,140) in funding, which was initially raised by Scottish independence campaigners in 2017 and intended to be ring-fenced but may have been utilised for other purposes.

The arrest poses a significant embarrassment for the SNP, which has exerted substantial influence over Scottish politics for the majority of the past two decades.

Sturgeon stepped down earlier this year, and since then, there has been a decline in support for the party and its aim of independence.

“To find myself in the situation I did today when I am certain I have committed no offence is both a shock and deeply distressing… I would never do anything to harm either the SNP or the country,” she said in a statement posted on Twitter.

“Given the nature of this process, I cannot go into detail. However, I do wish to say this… I know beyond doubt that I am in fact innocent of any wrongdoing.”

Earlier a spokesperson for Sturgeon said she had by arrangement attended an interview with Police Scotland to be arrested and questioned, and was cooperating with the investigation.

Police Scotland said a 52-year-old woman had been arrested at 10:09 a.m. (0909 GMT) as a suspect in connection with its probe into the SNP’s finances, before being released without charge at 5:24 p.m. pending further investigation.

“As the investigation is ongoing, we are unable to comment further,” Police Scotland said.

The SNP said it had been cooperating with the investigation and would continue to do so. “It is not appropriate to publicly address any issues while that investigation is ongoing,” a spokesperson said.

In April, Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell and the party’s then treasurer Colin Beattie were both arrested and then released without charge pending further investigation as part of the same probe. Sturgeon, Murrell and Beattie were all signatories on the SNP’s accounts.

At the time of Murrell’s arrest, police carried out a lengthy search of the couple’s home in Glasgow, which was sealed off with blue and white police tape.

‘Secrecy and cover-up’

Sturgeon, the longest serving leader of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government, caught the political world by surprise when she announced her resignation in February, saying she had become too divisive to lead her country to independence.

Scots rejected ending the more than 300-year-old union with England by 55% to 45% in a 2014 referendum, but the Brexit vote two years later and Scotland’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic brought new support for independence.

The Conservative government in Westminster has refused a new referendum, and polls show support for the SNP and independence have dropped since Sturgeon’s departure.

Opposition parties have accused the SNP of being mired in scandal and too focused on independence to govern Scotland properly.

The Labour Party’s Scotland spokesperson Ian Murray said there was a culture of “secrecy and cover-up” in the SNP.

“The same culture that leads to police tents in front gardens has created the deeply dysfunctional government that is currently failing Scots,” he said.

Sturgeon’s successor Humza Yousaf has described the police investigation as challenging, but has defended the SNP’s record and accused the Westminster government of interfering in the governing of Scotland and making devolution unworkable.

The leadership contest to replace Sturgeon exposed deep divisions within the party during her eight years in power, which saw a small group exercise control over party affairs.

YouGov last month said that on current polling, the SNP could lose around half its seats to Labour in the next UK election, expected in 2024.

Although the SNP would still be the largest party in Scotland, large gains for Labour there could be key to the British opposition party’s hopes of a majority and returning to power in Westminster for the first time since 2010.

Earlier on Sunday, Yousaf said the SNP would be willing to do a deal with Labour in the event of a hung parliament.

(Reuters)

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