Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to hand back £600,000 of “missing” funds the SNP raised from party members to fight an independence referendum campaign after her Supreme Court defeat.
The Scottish Tories said the First Minister should “do the right thing” and return the money after the court ruled she did not have the power to stage her planned separation vote next year.
They said she needed to “sort out her party’s dodgy finances”, with Police Scotland investigating allegations of fraud over how the funds were used.
The SNP raised £600,000 in two fundraising drives in 2017 and 2019 after promising members the money would be “ring-fenced” for a future referendum campaign.
However, supporters were concerned when accounts lodged with Companies House in 2020 appeared to show the SNP only had £97,000 in the bank, forcing the party to admit the £600,000 had not been set aside.
Instead, it claimed the cash donated by supporters had been “earmarked” for use in a future campaign through an internal process which would “ensure that pound for pound that total will be spent on that campaign”.
This suggested that the £600,000 previously donated for a referendum had been spent elsewhere and would have to be raised from other sources if a campaign was launched.
Tories demand Ms Sturgeon intervene
With the unanimous court ruling appearing to kill off the prospect of another separation vote any time soon, the Tories said Ms Sturgeon should return the money.
Sharon Dowey, a Conservative MSP, said: “Nicola Sturgeon has to intervene and give people back the missing money that appears to have been raised for false purposes.”
She added: “The SNP leader should come clean about how this £600,000 was really spent and return it to people who donated in good faith.”
But the SNP failed to state it would hand back the money, with a party spokesman saying: “The Tories forget what history teaches us – the overwhelming power of democracy to triumph.
“Unlike the democracy-denying Tories, we recognise the fundamental right of this nation to self-determination. And we will ensure that the people of Scotland are given a say on their future.”
Denials that funds are missing
Police Scotland launched a full investigation in July last year after consulting prosecutors, despite Ms Sturgeon’s denials that the money had “gone missing”.
Two months earlier Douglas Chapman, an SNP MP, resigned as party treasurer, claiming he had not been given the information needed to carry out his duties. He was elected to the post after promising members more transparency.
Joanna Cherry KC, another prominent SNP MP, also quit the party’s ruling national executive committee the same month citing issues with secrecy and scrutiny. Three members of the SNP’s finance and audit committee also quit.
The First Minister was pressed over the funds the day after it emerged the head of the British civil service was examining whether she should be permitted to continue using public money and officials on her independence plans.
Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, and John-Paul Marks, the SNP government’s permanent secretary, were considering the implications of the court ruling that the Union between England and Scotland is entirely reserved to Westminster.
Ms Sturgeon has refused to reallocate her £20 million referendum fund in the wake of the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision that the Union is reserved to Westminster, and her officials are continuing to prepare reports that form a new independence prospectus.