IAN Blackford has insisted the SNP finances are in “robust health”, while making the “mind-boggling” claim not to know when its auditors quit.  

“Absolutely, categorically, the SNP is solvent,” the party’s former Westminster leader said.

But asked when he first learned that accountants Johnston Carmichael had walked away from the party last September, he said: “I can't tell you exactly when it was that I heard about this."

SNP bosses have been criticised for keeping the exit secret for six months.

Scottish Labour said it was incredible for Mr Blackford to say he didn’t know when the auditors stopped working for SNP HQ and its Westminster group, especially as he was in charge of the latter at the time.

The Skye MP was also registered with the Electoral Commission as a "registered officer" of the Westminster Group accounting unit.

"This will not wash with the people of Scotland,” Labour said.

 The Herald:

The SNP’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), yesterday met and agreed a new transparency and governance review procedure, potentially including the use of forensic accountants, experts in detecting fraud and malpractice.

Humza Yousaf was forced to deny the party was going bankrupt after the meeting, and said it would have enough to fight a looming £100,000 Westminster byelection.

"We're not close to bankruptcy. This is something that I've read in some social media circles, but the party is solvent," he said.

But the Sunday Times later reported that National Treasurer Colin Beattie had told the NEC the SNP's income had been hit by the exit of 30,000 members and their fees, a lack of donations, and legal costs related to a police probe into the party's finances. 

The party was “having difficulty in balancing the books" and a likely byelection in Rutherglen & Hamilton West would add to the "pressure". 

READ MORE: SNP finance crisis - party faces imposition of outside auditors

Appearing on BC Radio Scotland’s Sunday Show, Mr Blackford, a former banker, said he wanted to address the solvency issue “full square”.

Calling reports of the NEC “highly selective”, he said: “Absolutely, categorically, the SNP is solvent, the finances are in balance, we will be able to meet our obligations, our liabilities going forward. 

“Everybody knows that there has been a dip in SNP membership.

“I would like to think that we can grow the membership over the course of the coming period. 

“But when all is said and done, we’ve still got over 70,000 members, members that are paying subscriptions, donations coming in, parliamentarians making contributions.

“As would be normal, we'd be looking at how we can raise additional funds as well.

“But the party will be ready to meet all its liabilities. It will certainly be able to meet the challenge - if it comes - of a byelection in Rutherglen over the course of the coming period.”

Margaret Ferrier, the MP for Rutherglen, who was elected for the SNP in 2019 with a majority of 5,230 over Labour, is facing a 30-day suspension for breaking Covid rules.

If the Commons confirms the sanction, Ms Ferrier, an Independent since the 2020 breach, would face a recall petition which is backed by her constituents would lead to a byelection. 

It emerged last week that the SNP’s auditors, Johnston Carmichael, had quit last September, but that SNP HQ kept the party and public in the dark, including the NEC.

Mr Yousaf revealed he hadn’t known until he became SNP leader at the end of March.

Johnston Carmichael also ceased to act as the auditors of the SNP’s £1.5million-a-year Westminster Group at the same time. 

Mr Blackford was registered with the Electoral Commission as the Group’s “second officer”, and his name appears on its accounts, and so ought to have known in September that Johnston Carmichael had resigned.

However, asked when he first knew the firm had resigned, he said: “I can't tell you exactly when it was that I heard about this, but over the course of the last period, and of course there's been a change not just for the party, but for the Westminster group as well.”

The Herald:

He then said it was “quite normal” and “good practice” for auditors to review their clients and for those who used them to change theirs, as if it had been the SNP’s decision.

He said: “It's right, from time to time, that you do change your auditors, and that can come either from the auditors or from the organisation itself.

“There is nothing that is in particular untoward about that. That's what happens.”

Asked if it had been “entirely normal” for Johnston Carmichael to resign, and they had no concerns about the SNP’s books, Mr Blackford said: “Johnston Carmichael have made their own statement and of course they won't talk for reasons of client confidentiality.

“But they made the point that they reviewed their client list. That's quite a normal thing for any auditing firm to do. There is nothing which is extraordinarily unusual in itself.

“And I would argue that in terms of corporate governance and best practice it’s right that any organisation from time to time reviews its third party providers and makes sure that there is a refresh when it's necessary to do that.”

Mr Blackford’s successor, Stephen Flynn, is facing questions about what he knew and when about the auditors resigning when he replaced Mr Blackford in September.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “The SNP is a party in complete disarray - with claim and counter-claim being traded in the crossfire.

“Ian Blackford has been at the heart of the SNP leadership for years - he is directly implicated in the financial and political chaos at the heart of the party.

“That Blackford claims to not remember when he was told that the auditors had quit is mind-boggling. All the evidence shows that they resigned while he was leader of the SNP Westminster group.

“With the house of Sturgeon-Murrell falling, the duo’s most trusted lieutenants are being trotted out to hide their failures. This will not wash with the people of Scotland. It’s time for a clean break and a fresh start with Labour.”

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf denies SNP going bankrupt as party finances strained

The SNP has yet to find another firm willing to act as its auditors, and could have external overseers imposed on it if it fails to file its annual accounts with the Electoral Commission.

The deadline for both the central party and Westminster Group to lodge the paperwork in respect of the year to 31 December 2022 is July 7.

The Westminster Group must also present an auditor’s certificate to the Commons by May 31 or it will lose access to more than £1m a year of public funds known as Short Money.

SNP HQ was run by Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell when the auditors quit.

He quit as SNP chief executive last month after the media was misled over the membership slump.

Police arrested and questioned him on April 5 as part of a long-running investigation into the SNP’s finances, before releasing him without charge.

Police Scotland is looking into claims that £660,000 of money raised specifically to fight Indyref2 may have been spent on other things.