It’s said that before a tsunami strikes there are major warning signs to look out for that should alert the public to the forthcoming catastrophe. Warning signs such as an earthquake at sea, or the tide suddenly going out, are usually enough to galvanise the inhabitants of neighbouring coastal towns to immediately head for the high ground.
Political tsunamis have striking similarities to the real thing. For example, there were many early warning signs before the 2015 General Election that alerted all pro-UK parties in Scotland to the very real possibility that they were going to be swept away by a gigantic nationalist tidal wave.
Those warning signs consisted of 1,617,989 bitterly disappointed Independence supporters who voted Yes and had seen their dream of an independent Scotland overwhelmingly crushed at the previous year’s referendum champing at the bit – just waiting for another chance to cock a snook at Westminster. Secondly, the unopposed election of Nicola Sturgeon, further re-energised and emboldened that support when, like a rock star, she embarked on a rally tour of six Scottish cities, selling out every venue, including Glasgow’s 12,000 seater Hydro Arena in less than 24 hours.
Political tsunamis like referendums on Scottish independence are seen as a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. However, could it be that we are now witnessing the early stages of another major shift in the tectonic plates of Scottish politics which has its origins rooted not in the result of the 2014 Referendum but in potential criminality firmly embedded within the unaudited financial accounts of the SNP?
The missing £666,000 of crowdfunded donations to fight a second independence referendum; the loan of £107,620 to the SNP by CEO, Peter Murrell; the resignation of successive SNP treasurers; the resignation last September of Johnston Carmichael the SNP auditors; the inability to recruit new auditors; the arrest of CEO Peter Murrell and former treasurer, Colin Beattie. Each of these events on its own provides an early warning alert to possible major irregularities within party finances, however, when they are all put together, they have the synergistic potential to do irreparable financial and reputational damage to the party.
Most ominously of all, in February this year,, the SNP applied to the Electoral Commission for a deadline extension in order to give the Party more time to submit its Holyrood account, making the chance of it not being able to find an auditor to audit its £4.5 million funds before the 7th July deadline, a very real possibility.
Jessica Insall, a former auditor, warned on BBC’s 7 days political show, that being strapped financially, the SNP was not an attractive proposition for any auditor to take on, due to the risk of reputational damage to the auditor should the SNP accounts not be in order. Furthermore, should any auditor take the risk of auditing the SNP accounts, Insall reckons that the fee that they would demand, would be so inflated in order to reflect that risk, that the SNP couldn’t afford the price.
So, what are the immediate consequences for the SNP should they miss their July 7th Electoral Commission deadline to hand in their audited Holyrood account? Possible sanctions available to the Electoral Commission are three-fold. The party could incur an automatic fine ranging between £250 – £20,000 for missing the deadline.
Secondly, under powers obtained under Section 43 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act of 2000, the Commission could also appoint a qualified auditor to audit overdue accounts which would be an unprecedented event In British politics and recover the cost from party funds, thus wielding another major financial blow to SNP finances.
If that were not calamitous enough, in the event of the party’s Holyrood branch going bankrupt, Professor James Mitchell, a Scottish Parliamentary expert, argues that all Holyrood SNP MSPs would have to relinquish their Party membership and declare as Independent MSPs instead. This scenario would spark electoral mayhem and fuel enormous public and political pressure from the unionist parties for a fresh Holyrood election, which Mitchell argues that the party could resist if its Bute House agreement with the Greens remains intact.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the consequences for the Westminster group of 45 SNP MPs who have also been ditched by former SNP Auditors, Johnston Carmichael appear to be potentially catastrophic for party finances.
Penny Mordaunt, Leader of the House of Commons recently stated that if an audited account of SNP’s Westminster spending is not presented to the Electoral Commission by May 31st the party’s £1.15 million of Short money, which is paid out by Westminster to fund the activities of all opposition parties, will cease, putting the party’s future as a going concern in major peril.
Short money enables the Party’s 45 MPs to carry out their parliamentary duties including paying their staff and providing funding for travel and associated expenses.
There must now be a major doubt as to whether the SNP can raise up to £100,000 to fight the forthcoming Rutherglen & Hamilton West by by-election, which will likely be called shortly. Although it would depend of course on how much was left of the £586,000 the Westminster Group had in its bank account at the end of 2021 to fund this.
But the most worrying question of all for the SNP must be: do they have enough funds left to raise the necessary £28,500 to pay their deposits which are required if the party is to fight every seat in each of Scotland’s 57 Scottish parliamentary constituencies? The General Election could be called any time within the next 21 months. If it was able to fund this, how much financial support from the Party would each candidate expect from the Party to fight their campaign? Would that funding be enough to match that spent by their competitors?
All this takes place in the light of the unfolding slow-burn drama of potential criminality. Police hunting SIM cards associated with burner phones; purchase of a top of the range deluxe mobile home; luxury pens worth £500; and threats to confiscate phones after concerns raised by an NEC member are just a few of the most recent sensational developments.
One could be forgiven for thinking that this was part of a plot from the latest thriller written by Nicola Sturgeon’s favourite crime writer – Val McDermid, but no, this is a real soap opera being acted out very publicly demonstrating to a gobsmacked electorate just how far Scotland’s largest party has fallen in such a short space of time.
All of the above is destroying trust in the SNP. Trust in a party and its leadership is probably the most precious of all political commodities: so difficult to earn, yet so easy to lose. There is little doubt that trust in Nicola Sturgeon, was probably one of the main reasons behind the unprecedented electoral success enjoyed by the SNP since her election in 2014. Even since she stood down, Sturgeon’s popularity appears to be unaffected by recent revelations. 53% (+3) of respondents saying she was a good leader compared to 31% saying she was a bad leader.
However, the former leader’s integrity has already been tarnished by a leaked NEC video from March 2021 where she stated that “the party has never been in a stronger financial position as it is in now’’. Further revelations suggest that she has threatened to seize mobile phones of SNP officials after they raised concerns about party funds. If those revelations are making the hierarchy of the SNP distinctly nervous, the thought of Nicola Sturgeon being imminently arrested is causing them acute apoplexy, with one senior MSP, quoted by The Sunday Times, resorting to the vernacular, ‘’People are shiteing it about what happens then’’.
In the two months since Sturgeon’s resignation, support for the SNP at Holyrood has tanked by 9%. Which begs the question: will Scexit support also plummet as a result of her resignation? Surprisingly support for Scexit appears to have been unaffected so far. However, focus group research carried out by These Islands, in 2020, comprising of a sample of No to Yes switchers, found that unswerving belief in Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership was the most important reason for their switch. One wonders if that unswerving belief is so resilient that it could withstand the damage done to her reputation if the former First Minister was arrested?
In marked contrast to his predecessor’s unprecedented high levels of popularity, the most recent poll overwhelmingly demonstrates that Humza Yousaf is viewed as an incompetent and weak leader who has approval ratings of -25 and who deserves his moniker – Humza Useless.
It beggars belief that the current First Minister had no idea about the perilous state of his party’s finances when he decided to stand as Sturgeon’s ‘continuity candidate’, in the recent SNP leadership election, bearing in mind that the crisis had been unfolding over six years.
Like a pre tsunami warning of a low tide suddenly rapidly receding out of sight, the first- and second- choice continuity candidates, Angus Robertson and John Swinney bolted for the high ground, stating that they would not be putting their names forward to lead the party, leaving hapless Humza rooted to the spot, apparently oblivious to the humongous wave of sleaze and corruption about to engulf him and his party.
We are now at the end of the beginning of the most sensational political story in Scotland so far this century. As Nationalists with a penchant for speaking faux Scots would call it, a proper clusterbourach.
This gathering storm of potential criminality, bankruptcy, unrepairable reputational damage, and incompetent leadership threatens to create a tsunami of unprecedented strength. The power of which could not only cause the first political extinction event that UK politics has ever witnessed, but it could also provide a unique opportunity to stop calls for the break up fo the UK, and to end the Nationalist hegemony at Westminster, Holyrood and at local Council level once and for all.
Robert Hoskins is an ex-lecturer from Glasgow. Follow him on Twitter @hoski67
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