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Humza Yousaf 'sees no reason' to suspend Nicola Sturgeon from SNP after her arrest as she maintains innocence
12 June 2023, 13:39
First Minister Humza Yousaf has said he "sees no reason" to suspend his predecessor from the SNP despite her arrest on Sunday.
Nicola Sturgeon was interviewed for almost seven hours by detectives in relation to the probe into the SNP's finances before being released without charge pending further investigation.
Ms Sturgeon later said in a post online she was innocent of any wrongdoing.
But speaking to the BBC on Monday, Mr Yousaf said he would not be suspending Ms Sturgeon from the party and would treat her the same as former treasurer Colin Beattie, and former chief executive - Ms Sturgeon's husband - Peter Murrell, who were also arrested and released without charge in relation to the probe.
"I will do what I believe is right to the values of natural justice," he said.
"Nicola Sturgeon, like Colin Beattie, like Peter Murrell, was released without charge.
"Therefore, I see no reason for their membership to be suspended."
With SNP parliamentarians calling on Ms Sturgeon to resign the whip, however, Mr Yousaf added: "There is no pressure on her to do so from me or the S
On Sunday, the police announced that the former first minister had been taken into custody for questioning as a suspect in connection with an inquiry into an alleged £600,000 in donations missing from the party, which were meant for a second independence referendum that did not materialize.
After being interviewed by detectives for seven hours, she was subsequently released without charge and promptly declared her innocence in a statement.
In the aftermath of her arrest, MPs from the SNP and Scottish Conservatives called for her to be suspended from the party she led for nine years.
Craig Hoy, the Scottish Tory chairman, stated, "The SNP continues to be embroiled in obscurity and disorder. Humza Yousaf must now exhibit leadership and suspend his predecessor from the SNP."
Following her release at 5:24 pm on Sunday, Ms Sturgeon expressed in a statement posted on Twitter that her arrest by officers as part of Operation Branchform had been "both shocking and deeply distressing," as she firmly believed she had not committed any offence.
She insisted that “I know beyond doubt” that she had not broken the law and argued that “I would never do anything to harm either the SNP or the country”.
She said she was not able to go into detail about her arrest and interview by officers, but insisted “in the strongest possible terms” that she had not broken the law.
“Innocence is not just a presumption I am entitled to in law. I know beyond doubt that I am in fact innocent of any wrongdoing,” she added.
Ms Sturgeon also thanked her family, friends and well-wishers for their support, saying they were “giving me much-needed strength at this time”.
While she said she would “take a day or two to process this latest development”, she insisted she would return shortly to the Scottish Parliament to represent her Glasgow Southside constituents.
Since July 2021, Police Scotland has been examining the SNP’s handling of more than £600,000 in donations raised in 2017 for a second Scottish independence referendum.
Supporters complained when accounts lodged with Companies House in 2020 appeared to show the SNP only had £97,000 in the bank, despite the referendum never having been held.
Ms Sturgeon’s arrest came more than two months after the April 5 arrest of her husband Peter Murrell, the SNP’s former chief executive.
Like his wife, he was released without charge pending further investigation.
Officers searched their home for two days, erecting a large tent in their front garden. A luxury motorhome was also confiscated from outside the Fife home of Mr Murrell’s elderly mother.
Nearly two weeks later, Colin Beattie, who served as the SNP's treasurer at the time, was also arrested and subsequently released without charge. Following his release, he chose to resign from his position.
This development led to speculation regarding the potential arrest of Ms. Sturgeon, as the most recent accounts submitted to the Electoral Commission listed her, along with Mr. Murrell and Mr. Beattie, as the three registered officers for the SNP.
While Mr. Murrell and Mr. Beattie were arrested at their respective homes, it is understood that Ms. Sturgeon received notification on Saturday morning to attend a police station.
Upon her release, neither she nor Mr. Murrell were expected to return to their residence in Uddingston, near Glasgow, as per information provided to journalists.
On Sunday, Ms. Sturgeon attended a police station as part of a prearranged agreement, where she was arrested at 10:09 a.m. and taken into custody.
Detectives questioned the 52-year-old about the funding and finances of the Scottish National Party until 5:24 p.m.
Police Scotland stated that she was released without charge pending further investigation, and a report would be sent to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. Scottish law permits the police to re-arrest individuals at a later date if necessary.
As calls for Ms. Sturgeon's suspension intensified, Mr. Yousaf has been faced with mounting pressure to take action.
Murray Foote, the former head of media for the SNP, expressed his confidence by stating that he was willing to bet £5 on there being no charges once the investigation concluded.
Nevertheless, Police Scotland's chief constable, Sir Iain Livingstone, affirmed that the operation was being conducted with utmost integrity. He made it clear that he would vehemently oppose any political interference with the investigation, emphasizing that a diligent, thorough, and proportionate criminal inquiry was ongoing.
It has also been revealed that the police force consulted the National Crime Agency last year, seeking their review of the extensive investigation.
The announcement regarding the consultation with the National Crime Agency came shortly after an interview with Mr. Yousaf was aired. In the interview, he disclosed that he had recently met with Ms. Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament, where she has maintained a low profile in recent months.
Craig Hoy, the Scottish Tory chairman, released a statement:
The SNP are engulfed in murkiness and chaos. Humza Yousaf must now show some leadership and suspend his predecessor.— Scottish Conservatives (@ScotTories) June 11, 2023
Scottish Conservative Chairman @CraigWHoy1's statement following today's arrest of Nicola Sturgeon👇 pic.twitter.com/eUTmO31QVC
He said Ms Sturgeon had set the precedent by suspending other SNP politicians who faced accusations of criminality but had not been charged by the police.
Alex Salmond, Ms Sturgeon’s former mentor, resigned from the SNP in August 2018 as he sought to clear his name of sexual misconduct charges. He was later cleared of sexually assaulting nine women when he was first minister.
Ian Murray, Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary, said Ms Sturgeon’s arrest was “a deeply concerning development and the Police Scotland investigation must be allowed to proceed without interference”.
An SNP spokesman said: “These issues are subject to a live police investigation. The SNP have been cooperating fully with this investigation and will continue to do so, however it is not appropriate to publicly address any issues while that investigation is ongoing.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Given that there is a live police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment.”