With party finances – as with everything – the fish rots from the head down

With party finances – as with everything – the fish rots from the head down

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Monday 22, March, 2021

WHEN WRITING about the ongoing saga in Bute House it is difficult to know when and where to begin. There is much running commentary around the various inquiries and there is always the risk that any article no matter how small could jeopardise any future legal proceedings against the First Minister, and I do think now this is where events will go. 

Anyone who has been following the committee interviews of Sturgeon and Co. will have reached their conclusions on the matter by now, if not weeks before. The trouble is that so much of the proceedings have been covered in partisan manner that it is difficult to really see what cuts through and makes the lightbulb flash in the right minds – in those of floating yes voters. 

With the reported resignation of the SNP's own finance committee, on the premise the party's books will not be opened even to internal scrutiny I think Thomas Edison just entered the building. There are very good reasons for separation of powers and keeping family members out of major political decision making. As Nicola Sturgeon's husband and appointee any buck passed in Murrell's way stops with the First Minister. There is a complete fusion of party and government in one household. We may be about to see why that is such a bad proposition.

The obvious benefit of nepotism is control of party apparatus but the even more obvious consequence is the family name becomes a lightning rod for internal critics within the party. When this combines with plummeting public opinion of the First Minister, where more than half those polled now believe she should resign, the old adage applies – that the fish rots from the head down. 

This is a couple that until recently did not have vast wealth or power. Since 2014 they have amassed both and rather like Monty in the film Brewster's Millions they seem to have been less than prepared to spend that money wisely. Brewster had to follow certain rules in that movie to ensure he could inherit a huge amount of wealth. For party leaders there are different rules but they are just as strict. The accounting of the party must be scrupulous and no money from the party must be used for personal benefit of any kind. 

No one can doubt the pressure the party is under which makes it all the more extraordinary that someone like this can even be speculated to have happened, that the SNP cannot objectively sign off its own books because it cannot see them. Brexiters should feel some deja vu here for it was the inability of auditors to sign off EU accounts for over 20 years that came back to bite them again and again. There was nothing coming back as a defence because everyone knew there was no defence. It remains a gaping septic wound in the EU and it convinced millions to finally back our exit from it. 

It begs an obvious question. For as long as there are doubts about the financial probity of the governing party, notwithstanding the slew of grubby scandals and coverups, how can anyone claim the finances of an independent Scotland under these people would be sound? 

Unfinished hospitals, unfinished ferries in drydock, fortunes fluttered away on an aluminium smelter and an airport and Bifab. We do not know what we do not know, but there is plenty we do know and plenty we know we are about to find out about. Independence for many has been seen as castle in the sky but even devolved government under House Murrell looks built on shifting sands. 

There are over 50 MPs in Westminster currently doing the square root of zilch in representing Scotland. They could start with following the lead of David Davis who last week used parliamentary privilege to reveal some interesting emails shared by senior party members. Dare we hope for even one SNP MP to speak out in Westminster about the parlous state of the party or least call for transparency over something as basic as party accounts?

When reports came through about dark money funding the EU campaign, or the Toaries, the SNP wasted no time in making hay. Well, it is looking like there's something quite dark in the centre of their own finances. 

What has happened to hundreds of thousands of pounds of members' money? Why has this story even come to light if the books are clean and there are no concerns? Are questions that can and should be asked of members.

Without any partisan pushback this could be much more damaging to the SNP than their travails in front of opposition MSPs.

How can the SNP be trusted with running the economy of an independent Scotland if it cannot account for its own bookkeeping?

Go figure.

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Dr Jonathan Stanley has worked in a variety of frontline NHS positions in the UK since qualifying as a surgeon twelve years ago. 

Photo of a Sturgeon by kvdkz from Adobe Stock 

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