The SNP has “appointed?” a new treasurer

An article on the BBC’s website today has left me more than a bit perplexed. I’d suggest reading my previous two articles on the subject, where until recently I reserved judgement on the subject but Douglas Chapman (who I know doesn’t just quit for nothing) was the deciding factor in me raising concerns:

The SNP could end accusations about party finances tomorrow.

I reserved judgement about the 600K, now I’m not.

The SNP has appointed a new treasurer after the previous holder of the post quit amid a row over party finances was the title of the BBC article where it goes on to say that Colin Beattie has returned to the role of SNP treasurer after the resignation of Douglas Chapman. I am unaware of whether he’s been elected to the position or he’s been “appointed” but the article says “appointed” which is just a little bit weird for two reasons.

Firstly, let me preface this by saying, I don’t know Colin Beattie, I am sure he’s a good guy, but I must seriously question the wisdom of appointing the previous treasurer back to the same position who was specifically beaten by a candidate elected by the membership on the basis of accusations of missing money and on the basis of opening up the books which were created during Mr. Beattie’s tenure as treasurer over those very same accusations. It’s kind of like appointing a doctor to a senior management position in an NHS board where he has the power to interject in investigations about himself. Oh no! Wait! That actually happened as well.

Douglas Chapman resigned claiming he had not been given the information he needed to do the job to open the books in response to accusations that came up during the tenure of the person he was replacing – Mr Beattie.

The SNP has opened itself right up to accusations of the fox guarding the henhouse (whether there’s foundation in that or not).

It comes amid controversy over hundreds of thousands of pounds that was donated by independence supporters.

The money had been raised through SNP fundraising websites since 2017, with the party saying it would be ring-fenced for a future independence referendum campaign.

But its most recent accounts showed that the SNP had just £96,000 in the bank at the end of 2019.

There must be some kind of veracity to the claims, no less than 3 members of the audit committee of the party have resigned. Joanna Cherry resigned from the NEC over it and Douglas Chapman resigned as treasurer for the very same reason.

Police are actively assessing a complaint of alleged financial irregularity, so there must be credence to the claims. Appointing the previous treasurer just compounds this situation even further.

The BBC article goes on to say that: “Mr Beattie, the MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh, officially took up his role on 30 May and is expected to present draft accounts for 2020 – including an update on indyref2 donations – to the party’s governing National Executive Committee on Saturday.”

This update will most certainly be an interesting one, but to be honest with you, there’s a very good reason I suggested in my previous article that the SNP should seek an independent auditor with no links to the SNP, and that’s because (working on the assumption that allegations are false but I am beginning to question that fact) if the current management is the ones to conduct and present that report, it’s immediately going to be questions – like it or not, they’ve been tarred with the same brush.

The SNP launched a fundraising website in 2017 as part of a drive for a new independence referendum, aiming to bring in £1m in donations.

Almost £500,000 was reportedly raised, and while the website was taken down in the wake of that year’s general election – which saw the SNP lose 21 seats – the party said the cash “will only be used for the specific purpose of a referendum campaign”.

The party has run further referendum campaign crowd-funders since, including one in 2019 which asked for donations to pay for the distribution of pro-independence literature to every household in Scotland.

The SNP’s most recent accounts showed that it had about £96,000 in the bank at the end of 2019, and total net assets of about £272,000.

It’s the ludicrous claim by a senior member of the SNP that gets me scratching my head though. The BBC article states that “One senior SNP” figure told “Glen Campbell” that he regards the complaints about this issue as part of an “orchestrated campaign” by Alex Salmond’s Alba party – a claim they describe as “nonsense”.

But it cannot be the case. The irregularities and accusations have existed since 2018, Alex Salmond’s party was only created a month before the Scottish Election, and Alex Salmond himself was kind of busy defending himself in court to be able to orchestrate a campaign about missing money. The SNP could have easily ended accusations in one fell swoop with an independent auditor and a public report, it has resisted doing so.

This is political spin 101, to try and push a parties problems onto another person or political opponent by inferring that A came before B. In this case, it’s all about Alba, but in reality, it isn’t, because Alba didn’t exist when these accusations reared their head. What annoys me about the position of the SNP senior leadership in trying to write off such accusation as political games by a political opponent, is that they are trying to cover their ass by delegitimising genuine concerns brought up by people who actually donated into that fund, whereby one of their spokesperson (who I note their name is conveniently missing) says “we will robustly challenge any allegations from political opponents that seek to cast doubt on the integrity of the SNP’s finances.”. This is not “political opponents” raising concerns, this is people who actually donated to the fund, contributors and allies of the SNP, some who have now left the party over this very issue because they are not getting the transparency requested. Which seems to be a recurring theme with the SNP of late. And this is clearly indicated because within those complaints, over 60 people have requested that their money be returned, not least the Weirs who have donated millions to the SNP and to the Yes Movement over the years.

The party has said that it applies an internal process whereby any donation in response to a specific appeal or is donated for a specific purpose – is recorded as such “to ensure that an equivalent amount is indeed spent on the intended purpose”.

The spokesman added that all donations to the independence appeals had therefore been coded and recorded as such.

He added: “This allows a running total to be kept and ensures that pound for pound that total will be spent on work to secure and win an independence referendum.

“So, while the money raised through the independence appeals is not held in a separate account, it is ‘earmarked’ through the internal process.

“Every penny will be deployed through normal cash flow arrangements for the purpose of securing and winning an independence referendum.”

It is understood that a small number of refund requests have already been made to the party, which are said to be mainly from former members.

But that is not what they said when these accusations first appeared. They were clear that the money was “ring-fenced”. Ringfencing is a monetary term that literally means to isolate funds in a specific account, away from anything else. For instance, when you hire a solicitor, they open a client account for you. The money you pay them is specifically put into that account. Costs are deducted from that account, money from you is added to it. The purpose is to ensure your money is kept separate from everything else.

This is what the SNP portrayed it to be to the donors. They stated it unequivocally, but with no mention of the funds in the parties records, suddenly it was “interwoven” in the parties general funds. That is, with respect, not how anything is done in the world of business. Companies and organisations put money in specific accounts for specific purposes to ensure easy audit. If the funds are interspersed throughout the accounts, then that of itself is general incompetence of the money men at the party – because it is standard practice to isolate it.

The SNP need to stop p**sing about on this. They need to bring in an outside auditors to produce a public report and either admit they have spent the case, or prove they haven’t, because if this continues it is going to rip the movement apart from the inside, which is just what the unionists would love. Right now, however, they have adopted a position of admitting nothing and blaming other yes supporters for them refusing to be transparent, dismissing legitimate concerns of those who donated.

Appointing a treasurer who was beaten in an election by someone looking to bring transparency to the books under that previous treasurers remit amongst accusations of missing money is not a winning strategy. The irony is, the person I most feel sorry for here is Mr. Beattie, because he’s about to get both barrels from the movement. I hope he truly knows what he’s getting himself into.

In the meantime, if you do have spare cash that you are looking to donate, my honest advice would be to donate it to your local yes group or to buy things your local yes group need for them, and donate that. Or you could donate to the Scottish Independence Fund, which most definitely scrutinises and ensure that your cash is used properly. I’ve never been an advocate of donating to a central fund for a party or an organisation like yes Scotland (because those at the top have a tendency to waste it on larger vanity projects) because I believe that a leaflet handed from one person to another during a conversation on our constitutional future is of far more value than a billboard seen while the driver is passing it at 60mph. Unfortunately, this situation with the SNP only re-enforces that viewpoint on why yes supporters should donate locally.

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