Colin Beattie, the SNP Treasurer, was arrested by Police Scotland on Tuesday morning as part of an investigation into the party’s finances. After being questioned, the 71-year-old was released without charge pending further investigation. His arrest came just hours before the First Minister set out his government’s priorities for the next three years.
The investigation, known as Operation Branchfoot, was launched in July 2021 after complaints were made about how donations were used. Peter Murrell, Nicola Sturgeon’s husband and former SNP Chief Executive, was arrested two weeks ago and also released without charge pending further investigation.
The SNP raised £666,953 through referendum-related appeals between 2017 and 2020 with a pledge to spend these funds on the independence campaign. However, questions were raised after their accounts showed they had just under £97,000 in the bank at the end of 2019, and total net assets of about £272,000.
Officers involved in the investigation spent two days searching the Glasgow home of Mr Murrell and Ms Sturgeon, and the party’s headquarters in Edinburgh earlier this month. They also seized a luxury motorhome from outside a property in Dunfermline on the same morning that Mr Murrell was arrested.
Meghan Gallacher, Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said the SNP was in “total meltdown” and urged the First Minister to suspend Mr Murrell and Ms Sturgeon from the party. Her calls were rejected by Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf who said Mr Beattie’s arrest was “clearly a very serious matter indeed”.
Mr Beattie is the MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh constituency and is a former international banker. He served as the SNP’s Treasurer for 16 years before being defeated in an internal election by Douglas Chapman in 2020, but returned to the role when Mr Chapman resigned a year later. Mr Chapman quit after saying he had “not received the support or financial information” that was needed to carry out his duties as Treasurer.
The arrest of Colin Beattie has caused shockwaves within the SNP and raised questions about how donations are being used. Police Scotland are continuing their investigation into the party’s finances and it remains to be seen what further action will be taken.