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SNP has ‘nothing to hide’, says deputy leader who was not told auditors had quit | Politics News

SNP deputy leader Keith Brown has insisted the party has “nothing to hide” and urged greater transparency as he admitted he did not know its auditors had quit until shortly before it was made public.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Brown acknowledged current challenges and the need to rebuild trust, but argued the SNP’s “best days lie ahead” as a crisis engulfs the party with a police investigation into its finances, which has seen its former chief executive and treasurer arrested.

Both Peter Murrell – who is former first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s husband – and Colin Beattie were later released without charge pending further investigation.

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The police inquiry centres on how more than £600,000 in donations to the party earmarked for an independence referendum was used.

SNP MP Stuart McDonald has been appointed party treasurer after the resignation of Mr Beattie.

A key task for him will be appointing auditors after accountants Johnston Carmichael, which worked with the SNP for more than a decade, resigned around September.

The party’s accounts are due to be filed to the Electoral Commission in July.

Pressed over when he knew the auditors had quit, Mr Brown said: “Shortly before it became public. We are talking within the last couple of months.”

Playing down the move, he said: “Like many, many other auditors across the UK, the auditors employed by the SNP decided they were going to cut back the activities they were involved in and that was true of many auditors and for many organisations.”

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Arguing it was a matter for the ruling national executive committee (NEC) rather than the wider party, he added: “This was a fairly commonplace occurrence, so this wasn’t a crisis that we didn’t have auditors, this was a change of auditors, and it was a decision by the current auditors in common with many other businesses and third sector organisations across the UK to retract their business.

“This was something that would be dealt with by the national treasurer, was being dealt with by the national treasurer and that’s what’s going to continue to happen.

“The work will be undertaken under the new national treasurer, to make sure we have the auditors in place.”

Mr Brown had previously been involved in drawing up governance reforms, but these had bene rejected by the ruling national executive committee.

He said: “I do regret the fact the party didn’t take on some of those changes, I think they would have helped with the current position.”

But he was pleased these would now be taken forward as part a review ordered by the new leader Humza Yousaf.

He said: “it is incumbent upon everybody on the NEC to make sure that the party members and of course the public have faith in the transparency within the party, they can ask questions and have those questions answered.”

Mr Brown added: “We have nothing to hide. We are by far and away the biggest, most successful party in Scotland.

“I believe the SNP’s best days lie ahead of it, but let’s make sure we are more transparent than any other party.”

He told Sky News: “There are challenges and we’re trying to meet those challenges.

“But of course the SNP has to make sure it takes measures to rebuild its trust with both its members and the people of Scotland.”

SNP warns Electoral Commission over ‘difficulty’ in finding new auditors as deadline looms | Politics News

The SNP has warned the Electoral Commission of the “difficulty” it is having in finding new auditors after its previous firm resigned amid the controversy over the party’s finances.

The admission to the elections watchdog comes just months before a crunch deadline which requires political parties to submit their accounts to the agency by 7 July, or risk being fined.

The SNP is facing questions and accusations of secrecy over the timeline of the resignation of Johnston Carmichael, which was announced last week.

SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf said earlier on Tuesday they had quit “round about October” – months before the official announcement – but Sky News has now been told the auditors had in fact resigned a month earlier in September.

It is understood Johnston Carmichael informed the SNP in September 2022 that it would not be able to carry out the audit due for 2023 following a review of their client portfolio.

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The party then began approaching alternative firms in late 2022 to no avail, with the search intensifying in early 2023. As yet, the party has not been able to identify a firm with the available capacity.

Mr Yousaf raised eyebrows after he admitted he had also not been aware of Johnston Carmichael’s resignation last year, saying he could not “comment on what was done prior to me becoming a leader of the SNP”.

However, he agreed it was “extraordinary” that the party had failed to appoint a new set of auditors since they had resigned.

The struggle to find replacement auditors comes following the dramatic events of last week which prompted Johnston Carmichael to confirm it was no longer handling the SNP’s accounts.

Days before, Peter Murrell, the former party chief executive and Ms Sturgeon’s husband, was arrested and questioned by police investigating the party’s finances.

Mr Murrell, who had been in the role for 25 years, quit during the contest to find Ms Sturgeon’s successor after she unexpectedly announced her resignation.

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The SNP has been accused of hiding the fact that auditors stopped handling their accounts six months ago.

Last week he was questioned by Police Scotland as part of its investigation into the whereabouts of £600,000 of party donations earmarked for independence campaigning.

It is understood there have been complaints the ringfenced cash may have been used improperly by being spent elsewhere.

Mr Murrell was later released without charge “pending further investigation”.

Opposition parties said Mr Yousaf’s revelation about the timing of the auditors’ resignation raised further questions about who knew what about their finances.

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MSP Jackson Carlaw, who was leader of the Scottish Conservatives from 2019 to 2020, tweeted: “Why did they hide it from the membership and the public? All very grubby and murky from the Nats. No wonder auditors resigned.”

Mr Yousaf, who was only elected leader just over two weeks ago, said one of the party’s “major priorities” was appointing new auditors “quickly”.

He said the SNP hopes to still have its accounts prepared in time to be submitted to the Electoral Commission in July, although he admitted it would be “problematic”.

An SNP spokesperson said: “We have informed the Electoral Commission of the difficulty in identifying replacement auditors and the national treasurer has made the party’s finance and audit committee aware.”