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    Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf is off to a rocky start



    Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf in Scottish Parliament on March 30, 2023.

    Scotland’s new First Minister Humza Yousaf wanted to talk about just one thing in his first major speech to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, April 18: his “new start” for the Scottish nation, with three priorities for the next three years – more equality, more growth and better public services. But controversy quickly caught up with the 38-year-old leader, who has been head of the Scottish National Party (SNP) for less than a month, as his party, Scotland’s largest political force, is weathering a violent storm.

    On Tuesday, shortly before Yousaf’s speech at Holyrood, police in Scotland confirmed the arrest of the party treasurer, Colin Beattie, as part of an investigation launched in 2021 into the SNP’s finances. He was released from police custody the same evening without being charged. Some £667,000 (€755,100) was collected by the party from donors, to fund the campaign for a second independence referendum in the wake of the failed one in 2014. (Scotland voted “yes” to remain in the United Kingdom by 55%) . Police received complaints suggesting the money had been used for another purpose.

    Read more Article reserved for our subscribers SNP turmoil in Scotland pushes independence plans further away

    Seizure of a camper van

    This development is the latest in a long line of disturbing reports involving SNP members, who have until now been loyal to the party’s charismatic former leader, Nicola Sturgeon. In early April, Peter Murrell, the party’s chief executive and Sturgeon’s husband, was arrested by police and released the same evening. The couple’s home was searched for two days and a camper van was seized from Nicola Sturgeon’s mother-in-law’s home. It had been parked there since 2021 and belonged to the SNP. It has also emerged in recent weeks that Murrell had to lend up to €100,000 to the party, which appeared to have cash flow problems, and that he had failed to report the departure of a third of the SNP’s members.

    Yousaf said he was only made aware of some of these developments when he took over as SNP leader at the end of March, exacerbating the impression that the “Sturgeon system” is extremely centralized and opaque. “The camper van was bought by the SNP to run the campaign for the second referendum, thinking that it would start during the pandemic and make it easier for our officials to travel,” said Graham Campbell, a Glasgow city councilor and member of the party’s executive committee. “But the campaign didn’t start after all.”

    No SNP official has yet been charged. But the suspicions are damaging the image of the party, which had built a reputation for integrity, in contrast to the “corruption” of the British Conservative government. “The worst thing is that this toxic climate is likely to last for months, as long as the police investigation has not closed. Even longer if a judicial inquiry is opened,” said Andrew Tickell, a law professor at Glasgow’s Caledonian University and a respected commentator on Scottish politics.

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