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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Nicola Sturgeon’s husband arrested in inquiry over their party’s finances

Nicola Sturgeon, then the first minister of Scotland, and her husband, Peter Murrell, in Glasgow in 2019. They have been married since 2010.

By Stephen Castle

Just weeks after Nicola Sturgeon resigned as Scotland’s first minister, her husband was arrested on Wednesday in connection with an investigation into the finances of the Scottish National Party, where he served until recently as chief executive.

In accordance with British rules, a statement from Police Scotland did not identify her husband by name, referring only to a 58-year-old man, but British news outlets, including the BBC, said the suspect in custody was Peter Murrell, Sturgeon’s husband.

Broadcasters showed pictures of officers at the home shared by the couple near Glasgow, and at the headquarters of the pro-independence party, which dominates Scottish politics, in Edinburgh.

The statement said that the suspect was being questioned by Police Scotland detectives, while urging caution in discussing the development on social media in order to not prejudice any potential legal case.

Murrell, who has been married to Sturgeon since 2010, had held the post of chief executive since 1999, but he resigned last month after accepting blame for misleading statements that the party made about its membership numbers.

In February, Sturgeon caught the political world by surprise when she announced her resignation as Scotland’s first minister and leader of the SNP, sparking a divisive race to succeed her that Humza Yousaf won last week.

Speaking to the BBC, Yousaf said he could not comment on a police investigation but was told of the arrest “this morning after the event, and of course my reaction as you’d imagine, much like anybody involved in the SNP, is that this is a difficult day for the party.”

In a statement following news of the arrest, the SNP said, “Clearly it would not be appropriate to comment on any live police investigation, but the SNP have been cooperating fully with this investigation and will continue to do so.” Sturgeon has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Sturgeon was a popular figure and an effective communicator, and her departure dealt a blow to the SNP. She was a forthright champion for Scottish independence, and her decision to step aside created an opening for the SNP’s political rivals, most notably the Labour Party.

The arrest of Murrell is another setback for the SNP, just as Yousaf is establishing himself in his new job as the party leader.

The police inquiry into the party’s finances, code-named Operation Branchform, began in 2021 and was reported to have followed complaints about the handling of around 600,000 pounds, or nearly $750,000, in donations raised to campaign for a second vote on Scottish independence. The authorities are thought to be looking into whether money intended to fight for another referendum was diverted for a different purpose.

In the 2014 referendum, Scots voted by 55% to 45% against independence. Sentiment on the issue has not shifted significantly, and independence backers suffered a significant loss last year when the British Supreme Court ruled that a second referendum could not be held without the agreement of Britain’s government in London, which opposes such a move. But the question of Scotland’s constitutional future remains a huge issue in the country’s politics.

At the time of her resignation, Sturgeon said she was exhausted and had become too polarizing a figure to persuade wavering voters to support the independence cause to which she had devoted her political career.

“Is carrying on right for me?” Sturgeon, 52, said at a news conference in Edinburgh in February. “And, more important, is me carrying on right for my country, my party, and for the independence cause I have devoted my life to?”

“I’ve reached the difficult conclusion that it’s not,” she said.

When the BBC asked Yousaf if the investigation of Murrell explained Sturgeon’s resignation, he replied: “No, I believe Nicola Sturgeon absolutely that she had taken the party as further forward as she possibly could.”

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