Calls for Nicola Sturgeon to be suspended by the SNP after a leaked video surfaced have been rejected by a key ally as the party announced she would be staying away from Holyrood this week.
Published by the Sunday Mail, the video appears to show the then-first minister addressing a meeting of the party’s ruling national executive committee (NEC).
She told the NEC the party had “never been in a stronger financial position than it is now”, adding: “I’m not going to get into the details … but just be very careful about suggestions that there are problems with the party’s finances because we depend on donors to donate – there are no reasons for people to be concerned about the party’s finances and all of us need to be careful about suggesting that there is.”
After the video surfaced, the Scottish Tories led calls for the former first minister to be suspended from the party, a suggestion that was rejected by the SNP’s former Westminster leader Ian Blackford – a key Sturgeon ally.
“Goodness gracious, absolutely not, there’s no reason for that at all,” Blackford told BBC Radio Scotland on Monday when asked if the former first minister should be sanctioned by the SNP.
“I think that’s some of our opponents politicking, really, in this context.”
In the video, Blackford said, there was “nothing which was in any way untoward”, adding: “What the (former) first minister was reflecting on was the ability of the SNP to conduct itself as an organisation, having the financial resources in order to fight elections and to support its members.”
The video was reportedly from a meeting of the ruling body in March 2021, days before a complaint was made to police about the use of £600,000 of donations earmarked for an independence referendum campaign, which would result in a police investigation and the subsequent arrest of her husband and former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.
Murrell was released without charge “pending further investigation”.
The release of the video compounds the torrid start to First Minister Humza Yousaf’s tenure as SNP leader.
He is due to this week set out his priorities for his premiership, with Sturgeon reportedly having planned to stay away from Holyrood.
A spokeswoman for Sturgeon said on Monday: “In order to ensure the focus of this week is on the new First Minister setting out his priorities for the people of Scotland, Sturgeon has always intended to participate remotely and intends to return to Holyrood in the near future.”
Speaking to LBC on Monday, Blackford said the past few weeks, which include: the end of a bruising leadership contest; the resignation of Murrell after the media was misled over membership numbers; his subsequent arrest and the search of the home he shares with Sturgeon and the party’s Edinburgh headquarters; had been a “challenging period” for the SNP.
“Yes, it’s been a long journey,” he said.
“And of course, it’s not been pleasant, going through all the things that we’ve gone through over the course of the last few weeks.
“But let’s not forget the responsibilities that we have to those who’ve gone before us, Those who have elected us those who support us to show the appropriate level of leadership and I know that under Humza Yousaf that’s exactly what will happen.”
A report in the Daily Telegraph suggesting Sturgeon would step down as an MSP was dismissed by the former Westminster leader as “idle speculation”.
Blackford also hit out at suggestions the party is in financial trouble, saying reports of quotes from treasurer and MSP Colin Beattie – which claimed it would be difficult to balance the party’s books – had been the result of “selective reporting”.
The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber also admitted he had been told of the resignation of the party’s auditors near the end of last year, a fact that was only made public earlier this month.
“What happened was that Johnston Carmichael stood down as the auditors of the SNP and, as a consequence of that, as the auditors for the Westminster group,” Blackford said.
“I was told in a timely manner that had happened … that was towards the tail end of last year after Johnston Carmichael had submitted their resignation.”
Blackford stressed that organisations regularly “review their arrangements” as it relates to auditors.
He went on to say “categorically” that the SNP’s Westminster group will submit its accounts to the Electoral Commission by the May 31 deadline.