Nicola Sturgeon, the former Scottish First Minister who dominated Scottish politics for nearly a decade, was arrested and questioned for several hours on Sunday by police probing the finances of the ruling, pro-independence Scottish National Party.
Scotland Yards reported a 52-year-old woman (Sturgeon) was held on Sunday morning “as a suspect in connection with the ongoing investigation into the funding and finances of the Scottish National Party.”
She was “released without charge pending further investigation” six hours later. Police in the United Kingdom do not identify suspects unless they are charged. After her release, Sturgeon stated that her arrest was “both a shock and deeply distressing.”
“Obviously, given the nature of this process, I cannot go into detail,” she wrote in a social media statement. “However, I must express myself in the strongest possible words. Innocence is not merely a legal assumption I have. I am certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am not guilty of any wrongdoing.”
Investigation into Scottish National Party
The Scottish National Party stated that it has been “fully cooperating with this investigation and will continue to do so.” However, it is not acceptable to address any issues publicly while the investigation is continuing.”
In 2021, Scottish police launched an investigation into how more than 600,000 pounds ($754,000) set up for a Scottish independence campaign were wasted.
Two former SNP executives, treasurer Colin Beattie and chief executive Peter Murrell, were previously arrested and questioned as part of the investigation. Both, like Sturgeon, were released pending further investigation.
Murrell is Sturgeon’s spouse, and after his arrest in April, police searched the couple’s house in Glasgow.
Past Charges of Politicians
Arresting a leader or previous leader of a UK political party is extremely unusual. The most recent such case also included the Scottish Nationalists: Alex Salmond, Sturgeon’s predecessor as first minister, was arrested in 2019 and accused with a number of sexual offences, including attempted rape. After a trial in January 2020, he was acquitted on all 13 charges.
Prior to that, in 1979, the former Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe, was charged with conspiracy and encouragement to murder. The man charged with attempting to murder him claimed they had a sexual relationship during a time when homosexuality was illegal. Thorpe rejected his claim and was found not guilty.
Sturgeon abruptly resigned as Scottish National Party leader and first minister of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government in February. She stated at the time that she understood “in my head and heart” that it was time for her, her party, and her country to make room for someone else.
Sturgeon, the first female leader of Scotland’s devolved government, led her party to supremacy in Scottish politics, transforming it from a mostly one-issue party into a powerful governing force with liberal social values.
No New Referendums
She led her party through three UK-wide elections and two Scottish elections, as well as the coronavirus pandemic, earning accolades for her straightforward, calm communication style.
However, Sturgeon departed government amid party tensions and with her major ambition — independence from the United Kingdom for the nation of 5.5 million people — unfulfilled.
In a once-in-a-generation referendum held in 2014, Scottish voters chose to remain in the United Kingdom. The party seeks a new election, but the United Kingdom Supreme Court has decided that Scotland cannot hold one without London’s permission. The central government has refused to allow a new referendum.
Sturgeon’s departure sparked a battle for the SNP’s future, with recriminations about the party’s decreasing membership and disagreements over the best path to independence. Opinion polls show that support for the party has dipped, despite the fact that it is still the most popular in Scotland.
Candidates seeking her replacement clashed over methods and Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy, particularly a bill she championed to make it easier for people to legally change gender. Transgender rights campaigners praised it as a watershed moment in legislation, while other SNP members argued that it neglected the need to safeguard single-sex places for women.
Before Sturgeon’s detention, First Minister Humza Yousaf told the BBC that the SNP has been through “some of the most difficult weeks our party has probably faced, certainly in the modern era.”
“I know there will be people, whether it’s our opposition or the media, who have already written off the SNP,” he remarked. “They do that at their own peril.”