IAN BLACKFORD has admitted that he first learned that the SNP’s auditors had quit “towards the tail end of last year.”

He also confirmed that a “very firm and detailed briefing” about the party’s finances had been given to his successor Stephen Flynn.

The Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP also dismissed much of the scrutiny over the SNP’s accounts as a “media frenzy.”

He insisted that the Westminster group’s accounts would be lodged before the deadline, despite no auditor being in place.

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Over the weekend, when asked when he first learned that accountant Johnston Carmichael had walked away from the party last September, Mr Blackford told the BBC: “I can't tell you exactly when it was that I heard about this."

That was despite his being registered with the Electoral Commission as a "registered officer" of the Westminster Group accounting unit.

When asked on Monday morning when he knew of the auditor’s resignation, he said that he “was told in a timely manner that that had happened.”

Pushed on when exactly that was, he told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland: “That was towards the tail end of last year after Johnston Carmichael had submitted their resignation. And by the way, these things happen a lot. Organisations will review their arrangements in appointing auditors. 

“It's right that you do that under appropriate corporate governance guidelines. 

“And of course, let me just say quite categorically, the SNP Westminster group will submit its accounts under the normal circumstances by the time required.”

Whoever is responsible for auditing the accounts has just six weeks. If the SNP’s Westminster Group cannot present an auditor’s certificate to the Commons by May 31 it will lose access to more than £1m a year of public funds, known as Short Money.

Mr Blackford told the BBC: “I'm being quite specific with you that the deadlines that are there for the SNP Westminster group to submit their accounts will be met.”

Asked if he had told Stephen Flynn that the auditors had resigned, Mr Blackford said he has an “ongoing relationship” with his successor.

He said “all appropriate information to do with the finances of the Westminster group” had been “handed over to those who have responsibility for that.”

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Asked if he told him in December when he took over he appeared to suggest it was up to his deputy at the time, Kirsten Oswald.

He said there was a “lot of information that needs to be passed over, either by myself or by my other office bearers.

“The person that has responsibility under my guidance, under my leadership for staff matters, for financial matters was my deputy Kirsten Oswald. And a very firm and detailed briefing was given to Stephen and his team at that point.”

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

According to reports, National Treasurer Colin Beattie 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 and Hamilton West would add to the "pressure". 

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Mr Blackford, who stood down as the party’s Westminster leader in December, said the reports were a result of “selective reporting”.

“The SNP is still a large membership party, we have more than 70,000 members, we have donors giving to the party, parliamentarians making a contribution,” he told the BBC.

“The SNP will continue to operate as it has been doing in order that we support our members, in order that we support the leader, in order that we fight elections, by-elections – we’ll be ready for the general election next year.

“This is, if I may say so, a bit of a media frenzy which is taking place at the moment and there’s no question about the SNP funding its operations, whether that’s in the short term or the long term.”

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

He resigned 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.

Mr Blackford also claimed reports Ms Sturgeon is now planning to quit as an MSP were just “idle speculation”, according to the SNP’s former Westminster leader.

The Daily Telegraph quoted a source within the party saying she planned to step down “sooner rather than later.”

He said: “I speak to my colleague Nicola on a very regular basis and I can tell you that she’s focused on serving the interests of her constituents.”


Asked if she was proving to be a distraction, Mr Blackford rejected the idea, adding: “I think history will judge all of us and history, I think, will show a woman that’s led our country, that led us through the Covid pandemic, that has given inspiring leadership to all of us over the course of that period she’s been in leadership.”

Ms Sturgeon, he said, has “still got an awful lot to give”.