The SNP were warned about concerns over party finances, transparency and membership numbers back in 2020, an email handed to the Police Scotland investigation and seen by The Herald shows.

Peter Murrell, who stood down last year from the top party role, was personally informed when he was chief executive about fears over people quitting the party and urged to help allow a debate at a forthcoming party conference to establish more financial clarity and transparency over decision making.

The warning was made in an email to Mr Murrell by a party branch secretary who months later went on to make a complaint to the police after he considered his questions had not been satisfactorily answered.

In the email, given to The Herald, and dated November 2, 2020, the branch secretary, who does not wished to be named publicly, warned of significant damage to the party because of growing grassroots discontent in how it was being run.

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One key aspect leading to internal tensions was a rule change made by the party's national executive committee which was widely regarded as a way of blocking the Edinburgh South West MP Joanna Cherry from standing as a candidate in the 2021 Holyrood elections.

The change meant that MPs wishing to to get elected to Holyrood would have to give up their Westminster seat before standing.

The reform meant that while it was possible for the party's parliamentarians to switch between Westminster and Holyrood, the MP would face a risk of finding him or herself without a seat. Former MP Neil Gray did take the risk and was elected as an SNP MSP in 2021.

"I wish to reach out to you in the hope that a positive way forward can be agreed on, before the membership turns on the party. Which I believe is about to happen," wrote the senior activist.

"I have been contacted by many people from all over the country...Most of their exasperation and failures of the party [relates to ]what has taken place at the NEC." 

The Herald: Some SNP members disagreed with new rules brought in by the party's governing body which were regarded as a way of stopping Joanna Cherry from becoming a Holyrood candidate in 2021.  Photo PA.

He added: "I do not want to see the party damaged and want to see the current situation turned around. I'm aware that others are about to go public about certain issues and this will be explosive and very damaging. However this can be prevented if things are seen to be put right.

"I fear the drop in party membership will accelerate if the 'transparency' resolution is not allowed to be debated. For a democratic party to be seen to be preventing its membership from having any say in its operations is not a good look and will cost us more members.

"I think the First Minister has performed very well and she has wide support and that, I believe, is now in danger because of the action of others. So I would like to offer an alternative route that avoids more membership losses, loss of revenue and fixes some of the issues.

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"I'm aware of the financial position of the party as I am sure you are as well and that it is likely to get worse....I fear that things are becoming unmanageable and events will soon overtake the party."

Last night the complainer, who is no longer in the SNP, told The Herald that he feared much of what he warned the party about in November 2020 was now unfolding. He added he had given the email and other documents to the police. 

The motion calling for a conference debate for greater transparency was not heard at the party's annual conference which was held remotely from November 28 to 30.

Mr Murrell was arrested on April 5 last year as part of Police Scotland's long running Operation Branchform investigation. He was later released without charge pending further inquiries.

His wife former first minister Nicola Sturgeon and the party's then national treasurer Colin Beattie were arrested in June and April respectively last year and also released without charge pending further inquiries. She later posted on social media that she was "innocent of any wrongdoing".

On the day of his arrest, police officers also conducted a high profile search of his and Ms Sturgeon's home near Glasgow, including erecting a forensic tent in the front garden.

At the same time, another team of officers searched the SNP's headquarters in Edinburgh. A luxury campervan was removed by the force on the same day from outside Mr Murrell's mother's home in Dunfermline.

Speaking last week, ahead of the first anniversary of Mr Murrell's arrest, First Minister Humza Yousaf said the SNP would welcome a "conclusion" to Operation Branchform, but that it is for Police Scotland "to take as much time as they require in order to investigate thoroughly."

Police Scotland’s investigation was launched in July 2021 after a number of complaints that £660,000 raised by the party explicitly for a second independence referendum campaign was spent on other items.

Asked if he was frustrated over the length of time being taken by the inquiry, Mr Yousaf told the BBC last week: “Well, I think people will realise that all of us in the SNP would like to see a conclusion to Operation Branchform.

“I think that’s stating the obvious but, of course, it’s up to Police Scotland to determine how long that takes and for them to have the space and time to investigate thoroughly, and I don’t intend to interfere in that. It’s for Police Scotland to take as much time as they require in order to investigate thoroughly.”

Mr Yousaf told journalists at Bute House on April 6 last year that he was "very, very clear that the governance of the party was not as it should be" revealing he had launched a review of the SNP's governance and transparency.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has not received a standard prosecution report on Operation Branchform from Police Scotland.

A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “Senior professional prosecutors from COPFS and an Advocate Depute are working with police on this ongoing investigation.

“It is standard practice that any case regarding politicians is dealt with by prosecutors without the involvement of the Law Officers. All Scotland’s prosecutors act independently of political interference.

“As is routine, to protect the integrity of ongoing investigations, we do not comment in detail on their conduct.”

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: "As the investigation remains ongoing we are unable to comment."

An SNP spokesperson said: “The SNP have been co-operating fully with the police investigation and will continue to do so, however it is not appropriate to comment further while that investigation is ongoing.” 

On the governance review ordered by Mr Yousaf, the party spokesperson added: "The SNP has already adopted a number of key recommendations from the governance review while others would require constitutional change before they could be enacted.”