— Shaun Morris, Glasgow
On Sunday, the police investigation into the Scottish National Party (SNP) finances took an important turn with the arrest of Nicola Sturgeon.
Many had anticipated that the former party leader would be brought in for questioning at some point, following the arrests of ex-chief executive Peter Murrell and previous treasurer Colin Beattie earlier this year. Sturgeon is the third signatory on the party’s accounts.
Torrent of scandal
News of the arrest was splashed across the headlines of the bourgeois press. But Sturgeon was released without charge after a few hours of interrogation.
In fact, so far, no charges have materialised against any suspects in this probe into alleged fraud.
This scandal centres around hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations given to the SNP for independence campaigning, which were found to have gone missing from the party’s books.
There is no doubt that something fishy is going on within the SNP’s bureaucratic party-government machine. But the smell of suspicion lingers over the investigators as much as the investigated.
The police seem less concerned about any actual wrongdoing, as with dragging the SNP through the muck and hoping that something turns up that they can hit them with.
Indeed, according to the police’s own figures, their investigation into the SNP’s finances has cost more than the actual amount that is said to have gone missing from the party’s coffers.
Notably, our flat-footed friends rarely bother themselves with the crooks that reside within the halls of power. Recently, however, they have been compelled to do so by the open corruption emanating from Westminster and Downing Street.
There has been a torrent of resignations, suspensions, scandals, and inquiries for years now. And the Tories are desperate for a distraction; for another gang of criminals that they can point the finger at.
What better way to take the sting out of an embarrassing public inquiry than see your political opponents put under the cosh as well?
Forensic or farcical?
And so, last month it was revealed that, after two years of going nowhere, the Police Scotland investigation known as ‘Operation Branchform’ was being ‘reviewed’ by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).
The NCA is not widely known. Sometimes it is referred to as ‘Britain’s FBI’: a dedicated law-enforcement arm aimed at fighting organised crime, through long-term and secretive investigations.
The NCA reports to the Home Office and to the Home Secretary, currently Suella Braverman, who has conveniently avoided criminal investigation into her own corrupt and self-serving record, thanks to her close allegiance to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Braverman shamelessly throws anything at the SNP that she thinks will go down well with her knuckle-dragging supporters. This includes accusations that the party, by opposing Tory persecution of refugees, is “siding with people smuggling gangs”.
Police Scotland likely planned its operation of raids and arrests after the NCA review in late 2022. This escalation was delayed to start after the SNP leadership election.
Once reviewing the available details, the police search of Sturgeon’s home appears farcical: seizing a women’s shaving razor and a wheelbarrow; pots and pans; pens and jewellery. The warrant apparently ran to over 100 pages listing personal items such as these.
Famously, dozens of police officers turned up equipped to dig up the garden if necessary. And white forensic tents were set up to conceal the probable idle bantering of the boys in blue. Perhaps nabbing Sturgeon’s razor is revenge for the incoming ban on police constables growing beards?
Tories vs Holyrood
There is as yet no ‘smoking gun’ to give away this potential abuse of state power for political purposes – just as there is nothing for the police to charge any of their suspects with.
Whether directly orchestrated by them or not, the Tories will be pleased with how the case is unfolding, and probably hope that it will continue right up until the next election.
Starmer’s Labour, similarly, are also happy to watch the SNP squirm, hoping that this will dent the electoral appeal of the latter, to the benefit of the former.
As the famous fictional detective Lieutenant Columbo would say at this point: one more thing.
The pressure of potential prosecution against leading SNP figures also happens to coincide with the Tories’ hardball manoeuvres against the Scottish government – blocking basic reforms and attempting to restrict the activities of Holyrood ministers.
Earlier this year, for example, the Tories moved to veto the Gender Recognition Reform Act, which passed at Holyrood with the support of over two-thirds of MSPs. This move allowed them to whip up a ‘culture war’ and polarise opinion amongst SNP supporters.
More recently, the Tory government has sabotaged Holyrood proposals to introduce a bottle deposit scheme, intended to boost recycling. They argue that the Scottish scheme would conflict with their own plans, and so are prepared to kill it stone dead under the auspices of the Internal Market Act.
The SNP had warned before that this legislation would be used to block reforms from Holyrood, and in effect undermine devolution.
Additionally, in April, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly issued a diktat to UK diplomats, insisting that no Scottish government ministers should be allowed to discuss trade or policy with foreign governments without his permission.
This order is intended to prevent SNP politicians from promoting independence abroad, which it has done since the days of Alex Salmond’s government.
Tory Scotland Secretary Alister Jack defended this “strengthened approach” as a response to the “transgressions” of Angus ‘Air Miles Angus’ Robertson, the SNP’s constitution secretary, who has often made foreign trips.
First Minister Humza Yousaf has stated that the Tories are “holding devolution in contempt” through these actions. That much seems clear. And it is likely that they will continue to throw a spanner in the works for any major policy pursued by Yousaf’s government.
Perhaps the fraud probe will culminate in charges against some sacrificial lamb. Or maybe it will end in a cold case once its political utility has run out.
Either way, anyone who genuinely expects impartial justice will be sorely disappointed. That much is certain.
Sturgeon and her allies surely did perpetrate political fraud against campaigners – and against all those who placed their trust in the SNP leadership to advance the independence movement.
They have led the movement and its supporters into the current impasse, with the cause of independence now mired in the SNP’s growing scandal. Every pound donated has been a swindle, in this respect, whether properly accounted for or not.
This is why independence supporters and ordinary working people should not look to any bourgeois clique for leadership. They are all cut from the same cloth as the rest of the political establishment.
Instead, workers and youth should rely only on their own strength. Above all, this means forging a militant leadership, composed of class fighters, whose loyalty lies solely with the working class.
Only on this basis can we sweep away all the self-satisfied politicians, careerist hacks, bent coppers, and blinkered bureaucrats, and fight for a workers’ republic in Scotland, Britain, and beyond.