Sunday, 28 May 2023

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SNP accused of ‘moving the goalposts’ over independence campaign funds

David Henry

Before Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum, David Henry’s interest in politics rarely extended beyond following it on TV.

But the campaign — despite failing by 45-55 per cent — captivated the London-based television production company executive and he became an activist for the Scottish National party.

“I joined the SNP a day after the referendum in 2014,” said the 58-year-old who grew up in Edinburgh. “It was an amazing time . . . I found it very invigorating.”

He was not alone. Tens of thousands of people joined the party after the vote, transforming it into a political juggernaut with more than 125,000 members at its peak.

But Henry was among seven supporters who complained to the party and then in 2021 to the police over a lack of transparency about money the SNP had raised to fight a second independence referendum. The move would spark a police investigation and the scandal has triggered ructions that are threatening the dominance of the party, which has held power in Scotland for 16 years.

David Henry complained to the party and then the police over a lack of transparency about money the SNP had raised to fight a second independence referendum © Colin D Fisher/CDF

Longstanding SNP divisions over strategy and governance exploded into the open this year during a bitter contest to replace Nicola Sturgeon as leader, and the turmoil deepened last month when police investigating the party’s finances arrested both its former chief executive and treasurer. The allegations have left Sturgeon’s successor, Humza Yousaf, struggling to restore unity and fend off Scottish Labour.

The seeds of the crisis date back to 2017 when Sturgeon demanded that Downing Street grant Scotland the right to hold a second referendum, and the party later launched a fundraising drive for the campaign. At the end of 2021 the SNP said the drive and another referendum-related appeal had raised more than £740,000.

Six years on from the launch, however, Scotland is no nearer to holding another referendum after successive UK prime ministers refused to allow it and the Supreme Court ruled last year that Sturgeon did not have the legal authority to unilaterally hold a vote.

Former supporters, including Henry, who contributed to the fundraisers said they went to the police after being dissatisfied with the party’s response. They have accused the party of diverting the money to other things, instead of ringfencing it as promised for an independence…

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