Alex Neil: Police are investigating SNP, a factor in Sturgeon’s resignation
He also claimed that Humza Yousaf probably would not have won if the party leader’s arrest had taken place during the SNP leadership contest.
Yesterday Mr Yousaf dismissed claims that Ms Sturgeon’s sudden and unexpected departure was due to the police investigation.
CONTINUE READING: Humza Yousaf insists that the SNP will fully cooperate with the police
Speaking to the BBC’s Today program, Mr Neil said: “Well, Nicola has resigned very suddenly. Everyone and their grandma knew about this investigation.
“There have been very strong rumors in recent months that some sort of arrest may be imminent, so it’s hard to believe that hasn’t played a role in Nicolas’ deliberations.
“Given that a large number of people were interviewed, including employees at SNP headquarters, it’s hard to believe Nicola was unaware.”
When asked about Humza Yousaf’s election as First Minister, Mr Neil said: “Humza came forward as a continuity candidate. Had all this happened … before the elections opened, I am absolutely certain that the continuity candidate would have had a much harder time winning.”
This point was echoed by SNP MP Angus MacNeil. He told The National there were questions Police Scotland needed to answer.
“In an ever-changing situation, we need to know: has leadership competition affected police timing? I think that’s a question for Police Scotland and I think it’s very important for democracy that the police answer that question.
“Did a political trial influence the timing of the police investigation? If so, then there is an impact on democracy because members may or may not have chosen the same candidate, but we don’t know.”
Mr MacNeil continued: “When a lot of people ask the question ‘did they delay the investigation’ then Scottish Police need to sort that out.
“The problem we have, and the problem we have had for a while, is that people make decisions without information. People voted before they knew it [about the membership numbers controversy]HQ then told Mi-Voice that under no circumstances are people allowed to change their voices in light of the new information.
“We had a process, a voting phase, where information changed, but people weren’t allowed to change their votes if they wanted to.
“Everything changes but the vote cannot change and if the police have withheld the investigation it means that information has been withheld from those who voted. Did they procrastinate and if so, why did they procrastinate?”
Mr Murrell’s role came under scrutiny during the competition.
Last month, he was eventually forced to resign as SNP chief executive after a dispute over misleading journalists about the party’s membership.
Mr Yousaf repeatedly praised the outgoing party leader, telling The Herald at a campaign stop that Mr Murrell was a “good man” and an exceptional servant of the SNP.
On February 12 this year, the Herald on Sunday reported that senior SNP officials had been contacted by police as part of Operation Branchform, the long-running probe into the party’s finances.
Three days later, Ms Sturgeon announced she was stepping down as SNP leader and first minister.
Asked yesterday if the inquest was the real reason for Ms Sturgeon’s resignation, Mr Yousaf said: “Nicola’s legacy stands on its own.
“Nicola’s legacy, whether it’s in terms of nurturing young people and delivering on The Promise, whether it’s tackling child poverty, there are many legacies she can stand on and I think that’s what she will be measured by.”
He continued: “I believe her a lot when she says how exhausted she was.
“I think anyone who has watched them during these daily briefings, day in and day out as the pandemic progresses, can understand how tiring it is.
“So, no, I don’t think that’s why Nicola Sturgeon resigned.”
CONTINUE READING: Nicola Sturgeon cancels performance at Edinburgh Science Festival
A heavy police presence is still in place outside the home of Mr Murrell and Ms Sturgeon in Glasgow.
Plainclothes officers could be seen entering and exiting the property, one carrying two large rolls of bubble wrap.
One of the uniformed officers wore white protective foot coverings, while other officers wore them after leaving the home.
Health Secretary Michael Matheson said the government would not make “ongoing comment” on the probe into the SNP’s finances but acknowledged it was a “difficult time” for the party.
Visiting an NHS 24 call center in Glasgow, Mr Matheson told the PA news agency: “There is a live police investigation here and I think the most important thing is that we give the police the space they need – without an ongoing one Comment – as part of their investigation.
“I do not intend to make any ongoing comment on this.
“What I have made very clear – and what the party has made very clear – is that the party will comply with any requests for information from the police.”
He added: “I think it’s important that I recognize – and the First Minister acknowledged that yesterday – that it is a difficult time for the party in the light of this inquiry at the present moment, but it’s important that we Allow the police to continue their work and conduct a very thorough and detailed investigation and see what the outcome of that is.”
READ MORE: Peter Murrell released without charge in SNP financial investigation
Speaking to The Herald during the Rutherglen and Hamilton West election campaign, Labor leader Anas Sarwar said Mr Yousaf had questions to answer.
“I don’t want to prejudge any police investigation, but I think there are big questions about what he knew and when,” he said. “And I hope that in the fullness of time, we get the opportunity to ask those questions and we can get the appropriate answers.”