Nicola Sturgeon’s husband charged with embezzlement of SNP funds

Peter Murrell was re-arrested on Thursday morning in political finance investigation

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has been plunged back into crisis after the decision by police to charge its former chief executive, Peter Murrell, the husband of former leader Nicola Sturgeon, with embezzlement of party funds.

Mr Murrell made no response to journalists outside the Glasgow home he shares with Ms Sturgeon, when he returned there on Thursday night following his arrest that morning for questioning. On Friday, Ms Sturgeon said the situation was “incredibly difficult”.

Mr Murrell was first arrested a year ago by officers as part of an investigation, Operation Branchform, into the whereabouts of up to £660,000 (€770,375) in donations made to the SNP. Ms Sturgeon and Colin Beattie, the party’s former treasurer, were also arrested during the investigation. Ms Sturgeon, who along with the other two was one of the three signatories to the SNP’s accounts, has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Police Scotland confirmed Mr Murrell had been charged “in connection with the embezzlement of funds” from the party where, along with his wife, he was for years a powerful force. He quit as SNP chief executive last year shortly before he was arrested, in a separate row over misleading information on party membership numbers that was given to journalists.


Ms Sturgeon quit as party leader in February 2023, citing fatigue. Weeks later, the situation regarding Mr Murrell blew up, culminating in the now-infamous erection by Scottish police of a blue evidence tent in the garden of the couple’s home. Then in June Ms Sturgeon was arrested, before being released pending further investigation.

The SNP has not yet commented on the decision by police to charge Mr Murrell with embezzlement, but the party has been urged by its political rivals in the Scottish Conservative party to co-operate fully with the police investigation, which it has always said it would do.

In addition to reigniting media and public interest in the financial scandals that have roiled the SNP, the charging of its former chief executive has also capped a miserable April for party leader, Humza Yousaf. His brother-in-law was also charged earlier in the month with abduction and extortion in a wholly separate investigation into the death of a man who fell from a high-rise block of flats in Dundee in January.

The SNP has seen its once unassailable position in Scottish politics come under pressure in recent years, in a trend that predated the exit of Ms Sturgeon. It was accelerated during the barrage of negative publicity around its subsequent travails, and the party has plunged in polls.

The Labour Party in Scotland is aiming to take up more than 20 seats off the SNP at the next UK general election, which would allow it to steal the nationalist party’s crown as the largest Scottish outfit at Westminster. The SNP is still marginally ahead of Labour in most polls for the next elections for the Scottish parliament in Holyrood, due in 2026.

Before the latest flare-up of negative publicity, the SNP had been enjoying a nascent stabilisation of its position. A poll commissioned by Quantum Communications in March put its support among the Scottish parliament for Westminster at 38 per cent, up from 36 per cent in January.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times