The SNP plunged more than £800,000 into the red last year as its donation and membership income slumped, its latest accounts have revealed.

It was the largest deficit the party has ever recorded in a year without the expense of a parliamentary election to fight, and its second biggest deficit ever.

The official accounts, published this morning by the Electoral Commission, also show the SNP ended 2022 with negative reserves of almost £220,000.

The party’s membership has fallen almost 30% in 18 months to around 74,000 in June.

National treasurer Stuart McDonald said the cost of living was behind cancelled memberships and admitted the party was facing “challenges and uncertainty”.

He said returning to a financial surplus in 2023 was a priority.

The Scottish Tories said the accounts, which cover the last full year in which Nicola Sturgeon was SNP leader and her husband Peter Murrell was SNP chief executive, raised "serious questions for the party".

The Tories, who do not publish their own Scottish accounts, also demanded new chief executive Murray Foote should provide "full transparency as a matter of urgency".

Scottish Labour said the governing party was in "utter disarray".

As the SNP disclosed in June, the accounts to the end of December 2022 include a qualification or health warning for the first time. 

Auditors AMS reported: “During the course of our audit, we identified that original documentation in respect to some items of cash and cheques received for the current and prior year, relating to membership, donations and raffle income were not kept by the Party.

“We have been unable to satisfy ourselves by alternative means regarding the completeness of income in respect of the above limitation in scope. Consequently we are unable to determine whether any adjustment to income is necessary in the current or prior year and the potential impact on opening reserves accordingly.”

The accounts show the SNP recorded back-to-back deficits for the first time since the independence referendum, ending £732,072 in the red in 2021 and £804,278 in 2022.

Membership income fell from £2,516,854 in 2021 to £2,286,944 in 2022, while reportable donations fell from £695,351 to £368,538.

The SNP’s accumulated reserves fell from £584,649 to minus £219,629.

Cash at the bank and in hand fell from £144,975 to £46,039.

Staff costs rose from £1,282,780 to £1,349,503.

The accounts also show that Peter Murrell, the party’s former chief executive, who is married to Nicola Sturgeon, continues to be owed £60,000 by the SNP.

He loaned the party £107,620 in July 2021, ostensibly to help it with cash flow.

He resigned in March after the party misled the media about its falling membership.

Although the SNP, like other parties, has recorded large deficits in the past, these have tended to coincide with years in which Holyrood or Westminster elections rack up campaign costs.

READ MORE: New SNP accounts omit Indyref2 appeal under police investigation

The only time the party ended the year with a bigger deficit was in 2016, when it went £1.3m into the red in an all-out effort to hold onto its Holyrood majority.

The last time the party’s reserves were in the red was 2017.

The filing also discloses the latest membership figures.

At the end of 2021, the party had 103,884 members. 

At the end of 2022 it was 82,598 and at the end of June this year it was 73,936.

The drop of 29,948 represents a decline of 28.8% in 18 months. 

In his report on the accounts, Mr McDonald said: “Overall membership payments decreased by 9% during 2022. 

“Public concern about the economy and job security has understandably impacted on membership income in 2022, with the soaring costs of living being given as the reason for cancelling or lowering membership payments.”

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He added: “These accounts, like previous years, illustrate the huge significance of individual membership income and donations for the party.

“The accounts disclose a deficit of just  over £804,000 in 2022.

“Neither this deficit, nor the balance sheet, are out of keeping with other years in which nationa-wide elections were fought including 2021.

“However, it will be important to return the party to surplus in 2023 as we build towards the next general election.”

“Like every membership organisation today, we face challenges and uncertainty in the face of rising inflation and the cost of living crisis which impacts on our members.

“It is also important to note that the earmarking of 25% of membership income for branches (sometimes referred to as the ‘branch dividend’) equates to a figure which is 71% (£571,727) of the deficit (£804,278).

“Similarly, approximately 64% (£837,600) of the creditors figure in the balance sheet (£1,306,384) relates to dividends allocated to branches - essentially one part of the party owing other parts of the party.”

Scottish Tory Craig Hoy MSP said: “These accounts paint a grim picture and raise serious questions which the SNP must answer.

“The auditors highlight the party’s failure to keep a proper record of the income received from donations and fundraisers, which is highly irregular and means they could provide only a qualified audit.

“This would appear to explain why the SNP was forced to spam accountancy firms across the UK in a desperate bid to find someone willing to sign them off before the deadline.

“The SNP also remains in debt to Peter Murrell to the tune of £60k, which is doubtless why Humza Yousaf failed to suspend him and his wife Nicola Sturgeon following their arrest as part of the Operation Branchform investigation.

“The SNP should do the right thing and pay off what it owes its disgraced ex-chief executive and finally sever ties with him. His successor, Murray Foote, must now commit to providing full transparency on the SNP’s finances as a matter of urgency.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: "The financial chaos now engulfing the SNP goes to show how little the governing party can be trusted with Scotland’s finances.

“The fact is that the SNP is a party in utter disarray – with Scots looking on in disbelief as Humza Yousaf and his lieutenants desperately try to keep this sinking boat afloat.

“From police investigations to empty bank accounts, the SNP’s credibility is shot to pieces. It’s time for a fresh start with Scottish Labour.”

An SNP spokesperson said: "2022 was a challenging year for all political parties - with nationwide local authority elections, costs rising, and members understandably cutting back on donations due to a Westminster-made cost of living crisis.

"However, as we move forward, the SNP is determined to balance its accounts in preparation for the Westminster election in 2024.”

The SNP’s deficit was the second largest of any political party in the UK with an income or expenditure of more £250,000 in 2022.

Only the Conservatives recorded a larger deficit, ending a chaotic year £2.38m in the red after spending £33m against income of £30.7m.

UK Labour recorded a £2.7m surplus, and the UK Liberal Democrats a £753,000 deficit. 

Other Scottish parties had a mixed bag.

Alex Salmond’s Alba increased both its income and its membership, ending the year with a £17,425 surplus, while the Scottish LibDems had a surplus of £291,287.

Scottish Labour had a £123,787 deficit and the Scottish Greens a deficit of £28,191.

The Scottish Tories do not publish accounts.

The Electoral Commission said 18 large income parties reported total income of £99,993,948 and expenditure of £101,686,906.

Director of Regulation Louise Edwards said: “We are committed to making sure political funding is transparent.

"Larger parties spend and receive considerable sums of money so it’s important that information on their finances is accessible to the public.

"Publishing their accounts allows voters to see how parties are funded and choose to spend their money.”