A former SNP spin doctor has compared the investigation into the party’s donations to the failed prosecution of Rangers FC, which cost taxpayers £50m, and branded it a ‘grotesque spectacle’.
Murray Foote, who quit as the SNP’s chief media officer after he was given the wrong information about party membership numbers, has spoken out for the first time about the ongoing probe.
Writing in the Daily Record on Thursday, a newspaper for which he was also previously editor, Foote said: “The fallout would have serious consequences for the investigating authorities.
“Given the grim spectacle at the house Peter Murrell shares with Nicola Sturgeon and at the party HQ, it’s inconceivable the authorities would be so cavalier without slam dunk evidence, right?
“Not necessarily. One word counters that assumption: Rangers.”
The reference was in relation to the wrongful arrest of Ibrox administrators David Whitehouse and Paul Clark in 2014.
The Crown Office later accepted that the prosecutions has been “malicious”.
The SNP is currently under scrutiny into how £600,000 of money earmarked for independence campaigning was spent.
Former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, who is married to Nicola Sturgeon, and ex-treasurer Colin Beattie were arrested before later being released without charge.
Foote wrote that it is “worth considering” whether the probe, named Operation Branchform, is a “wild goose chase”.
Referring to the Rangers arrests, Foote continued to write: “The legal costs over the wrongful pursuit of those involved in the administration and purchase of the Ibrox club are upwards of £50m.
“So, the authorities have previous for high-profile inquiries collapsing in scandal.
“If they have spectacularly misjudged this one too, then the reputational cost will be far more substantial than the cash spent on manpower.”
Foote said the sight of forensic tents outside of the home of former first minister Sturgeon and Murrell was “extraordinary” and a “grotesque circus”.
He added: “What I do know, however, is something of the character of the two men arrested to date and, in Peter Murrell and Colin Beattie, two less likely master criminals you will struggle to meet.
“Firstly, Peter’s loyalty to his wife is unquestionable.
“First Minister Sturgeon and her husband lived under crushingly intense scrutiny.
“It is inconceivable to me that Peter would so much as consider doing something dodgy lest it rebound and put his wife in jeopardy.”
He also warned that, if no charges were brought, the police and the Crown Office would find themselves in a “very deep hole”.
It comes after First Minister and SNP leader Humza Yousaf spoke of his relief over appointing new auditors on Wednesday.
The party had been without auditors since late 2022.
Yousaf has said he only found out about the situation after he became party leader in March.
He said: “We take our statutory obligations extremely seriously, so it is welcome news that AMS Accountants Group will complete the accounts for both the party and the SNP Westminster group.
“There is hard work ahead, but it is really encouraging to have them on board as we work towards challenging deadlines.”
A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “COPFS will continue to work with police in this ongoing investigation.
“It is standard practice that any case regarding politicians is dealt with by prosecutors without the involvement of the Law Officers.”
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