THE SNP’s top official has been accused of blatant “hypocrisy” after urging transparency in political finances despite his own party facing claims of excessive secrecy.
Chief executive Peter Murrell, who is married to Nicola Sturgeon, backed “real-time reporting of money going in and out of” party bank accounts during campaigns.
He told a recent inquiry into party finance the change would be straightforward and “very transparent”.
However the SNP has angered many of its own members by refusing to show how money donated for a second referendum has gone in and out of its own accounts.
It has failed to formally identify the putative campaign fighting fund in its 2020 accounts, despite a series of high-level resignations over the money.
The SNP could separate the cash out in a so-called “restricted fund”, but refuses to do so.
Mr Murrell’s comments appear in a report on regulating party finance published this week by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
One of the issues the Committee considered was whether parties should report their election and referendum spending to the Electoral Commission far quicker.
Under a 2000 law, a spending breakdown, invoices and receipts do not need to be filed for three months if the total expenditure is £250,000 or below, or six months if above.
Many who gave evidence to the Committee said this was too slow and not transparent.
Several parties said it would be difficult to set down in real time how money was being spent.
However Mr Murrell, who took part in a stakeholder meeting with the Committee alongside SNP lawyer Scott Martin, was enthusiastic about the idea.
The Committee reported: “The SNP was receptive to the idea of real-time reporting and suggested that if parties were required to have a single bank account it would make it easier to report what goes in and out of that account.”
It then quoted oral evidence from Mr Murrell, who said a way forward “might be to have a requirement for candidates and parties to have a single bank account.
“This happens in a number of countries, including Canada. You could have real-time reporting on the money going in and out of the account. It would be very transparent.
“There would be no significant additional burden on local agents or treasurers and it would be a simple way to operate. It’s not something that should challenge big political parties.”
But Mr Murrell’s support for banking transparency appears to jar with the SNP’s own record.
In recent months, the party has been dogged by claims it misspent up to £660,000 raised since 2017 specifically for Indyref2, after failing to identify it in its annual accounts when Indyref2 failed to materialise.
In March, three members of the SNP’s finance and audit commmittee quit amid complaints about being denied access to the accounts.
In May, new SNP treasurer Douglas Chapman MP also quit, complaining a lack of transparency had stopped him carrying out his “fiduciary duties”.
SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC quit the party’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee, the same month, again citing issues with transparency and scrutiny.
Replacement treasurer Colin Beattie MSP later admitted some Indyref2 cash had been spent on other things, but insisted “amounts equivalent to the sums raised” would be spent on campaigning in future.
But he refused to separate out £666,953 earmarked for Indyref2 in the 2020 accounts as a “restricted fund”, as the party was under “no obligation to do so”.
This was despite the SNP having a restricted referendum fund in its 2012 accounts, when Mr Beattie was also treasurer.
After the three finance committee members quit in March – two of whom went to Alex Salmond’s Alba party – Police Scotland received a complaint about the Indyref2 fund.
It was alleged that soliciting money for one purpose and spending it on another amounted to fraud.
The force has since been checking the claim to see if there are grounds to investigate further.
Alba general secretary Chris McEleny accused the SNP of “hypocrisy” for urging transparency while keeping its own members in the dark.
He said: “It’s ironic that there are calls for greater transparency when, as we know, there are still ongoing issues that may be subject to police investigations in regards to the £500,000-plus that was raised for the sole purpose of a referendum campaign.
“I think many people will think twice before they donate to the SNP when other parties exist that will spend that money more wisely campaigning for Scotland’s independence.”
An SNP source said: “Councillor McEleny’s constant whingeing is of no significance or relevance whatsoever.”