A STRANGE thing happened this week in the sweltering heat by Lossiemouth East Beach.

I was sitting in my car waiting to speak on Jeremy Vine’s Radio Two programme about the only subject in town – Nicola Sturgeon’s unexpected arrest and subsequent release.

On the road, travelling between events on the tour with my new book, Thrive, I had been caught somewhat off-piste, as halfway down the beach, my phone rang.

Anyway, waiting to contribute, I listened to Vine establish the facts about the former FM’s arrest with a BBC political correspondent, and was quite surprised by the tack taken.

Vine is no supporter of independence or any other political cause. He does ask probing questions – which is fair enough. He challenges but he also lets you answer.

And hereafter I paraphrase.

Vine asked the BBC’s political correspondent if the SNP issue was an internal party affair or a scandal about mishandling public money or government cash.

The answer – the “lost” £600,000 was a purely internal party affair. Right.

And the case arose from complaints by folk who donated to a campaign fund for a second independence referendum which didn’t happen because Westminster blocked it?


And presumably quite a few of the folk who contributed would think the SNP exists to campaign for independence so spending the cash instead on day-to-day running costs mightn’t be a total disaster.

Um, yes.

Clearly, the BBC host’s line of forthright questioning was approaching the limits of what can be discussed on air without triggering the Contempt of Court Act which bans public debate of live cases, including those – as Police Scotland has made crystal clear – involving folk arrested and released without charge.

But the Radio Two host went gamely on.

So, there is this motorhome which could have been bought with the missing cash. The SNP say they planned to use it in a campaign. Is that right?


And Peter Murrell made a £100k loan to the SNP.

Yes. It’s gradually being paid back.

So that’s it, then?

By this stage, I was sitting with my proverbial feet up, because a series of reasonable questions by a neutral BBC presenter had resized the scale of Sturgeon’s alleged offence.

Compared to Boris Johnson, who awarded 11.4% of Westminster’s Covid contracts to Conservative Party donors and associates as Tory leader, the SNP’s missing money saga is relatively minor stuff. And those basic questions meant listeners could draw that conclusion – even though a BBC presenter could not.

This might be how the rest of Britain and indeed much of Scotland views the “Nicola” scandal. And all the above might well be prepared to regard her as innocent till proven guilty in a way they’re not prepared to regard, for example, Johnson.

There is no equivalence.

Yes, I’d suggest Nicola and Peter Murrell are guilty of some fairly serious stuff – exerting iron control over “their” party and centralising power in Holyrood, away from the communities of Scotland.

SNP conferences on their watch became an unashamed corporate love-in with grandstanding speeches and micro-managed agendas – boring, undemocratic events some MPs and MSPs couldn’t bring themselves to attend.

As Britain and the media veered relentlessly in a presidential direction, the SNP got there first. Strategy was decided by a group of three. Policy was co-produced with corporate lobbyists. And there was zero tolerance of SNP politicians facing legal difficulty – folk like Michelle Thomson were suspended even though she was never charged.

Indeed, some believe the pursuit of Alex Salmond by Sturgeon’s government was politically motivated. We’ll probably never know the truth, but it certainly was legally flawed.

But here’s the newsflash: NONE of this prompted Nicola Sturgeon’s arrest and none of these issues get settled by it.

Newsflash two: Nicola is no longer First Minister – she has gone.

So whatever hypocrisy she might currently exhibit by retaining her party membership whilst forcing suspension upon others in the past – that is not Humza Yousaf’s problem.

He is a different person and a new First Minister with a clean slate – no matter how much he was billed as the “continuity” candidate or Nicola’s chosen successor.

It makes no more sense for Humza to maintain Nicola’s “suspend first, establish guilt later” policy, than it would for Rishi Sunak to organise swallies in Downing Street every Friday night, just cos Boris once did.

In short, Nicola Sturgeon has gone.

It may be a shock to the system and it’s complicated by the fact she’s still an MSP.

But her time in charge is over, the former FM is not running the show and thus how she would have handled her own case is completely irrelevant.

Mind you, some SNP politicians suggest Yousaf could improve his own standing by suspending Sturgeon, Murrell and Colin Beattie, not simply because it’s what she would have done – poetic justice – but because it would end the constant distraction her continuing party membership creates.

Look at the huddle of political correspondents yesterday, quite uninterested in news that the Scottish Government has taken 90,000 kids out of poverty but demanding to know if Sturgeon was set to appear at Holyrood. Surely by suspending her, Yousaf would ease the pressure on himself.

Very unlikely.

Sturgeon is still one of the world’s most high-profile political figures. Whatever she does rapidly becomes a headline.

“Nicola arrested” – was a shocker. But “Nicola snubbed”, “Nicola abandoned” and “Nicola alone” are hardly better – for her or the party she led for almost a decade. Especially since she maintains her innocence, the police investigation has taken years to get this far and is not guaranteed to produce charges that come to court.

Of course, opposition parties want to see the “Old Queen” brought low, especially by her ain folk. But there’s no good reason to oblige.

And of course, news programmes in Scotland keep suggesting that Yousaf is “refusing to suspend” Sturgeon, as if some massive petition exists demanding the former SNP leader is cast out of the party, in disgrace, right now. It doesn’t exist.

Au contraire, support for Sturgeon, the SNP and independence all sit at roughly pre-arrest and even pre-resignation levels.

So, let’s keep the collective heid.

It makes no sense for Yessers to fan the flames about Sturgeon’s suspension, appearance in Holyrood or future plans.

It would better serve the SNP and cause of independence if all those with grievances about Sturgeon’s time in charge parked them and instead worked together this summer to produce a “radical” slate of candidates and motions that reverse Murrell’s centralising agenda in time for the party’s October conference.

The whole Yes movement needs a vigorous, “old-style” conference that is lively, robust and disputatious without stage management or worshipfulness.

It’s time for SNP members to take back their party – and getting exercised about Nicola Sturgeon’s party membership is a gigantic distraction which makes that less likely.

Whatever the hurt or humiliation delivered in years past, and there have been plenty, this is not the time to scratch that itch.