THE arrested MSP Colin Beattie has quit as the SNP’s treasurer, thrusting Humza Yousaf into the role amid a live police investigation into the party's finances.

Colin Beattie said he was stepping back “with immediate effect” after informing the First Minister and SNP leader. 

He also resigned from Holyrood’s public audit committee.

He said the decision had “not been easy” but he did not want to be a distraction.

He said he would continue to cooperate fully with Police Scotland.

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The 71-year-old Midlothian North & Musselburgh MSP remains deputy convener of Holyrood’s economy and fair work committee and chair of the Scottish Commission for Public Audit, overseeing Audit Scotland, for now.

Although intended to help Mr Yousaf, his exit potentially creates a problem for the First Minister.

Under the SNP's Constitution and Electoral Commission rules, the party leader automatically becomes treasurer until a permanent replacement is appointed.

The Herald:

That removes any firewall between Mr Yousaf and the party's books amid a sprawling police investigation. 

It also becomes Mr Yousaf's duty to "check that donations or loans received by the party are permissible and to maintain the party’s accounting records".

The SNP does not currently have any auditors and faces a series of deadlines to file their accounts for 2022 and certify their spending of Commons funds to maintain access to £1million of state support.

When the MP Douglas Chapman resigned as SNP treasurer in 2021, Nicola Sturgeon automatically became treasurer for three days until Mr Beattie took over. 

The Herald: Electoral Commission rulesElectoral Commission rules (Image: NQ)

Mr Yousaf tweeted: "I want to offer my thanks to Colin.

"I know that his decision to step back from the role of SNP National Treasurer will not have been an easy one, but he has done so in the best interest of the Party.

"A new treasurer will be appointed as soon as possible."

Mr Beattie, who had been SNP treasurer almost continuously since 2004, was arrested as a suspect and quizzed by detectives investigating the party’s finances on Tuesday. 

He was later released without charge pending further investigation.

Officers have been investigating since July 2021 whether £660,000 raised by the SNP specifically for a second independence referendum was spent on other things.

Former chief executive Peter Murrell, who is married to Nicola Sturgeon, was arrested and questioned by officers two weeks ago as part of the same investigation.

There is growing speculation that Ms Sturgeon could also be arrested, as her name also appears on the SNP’s annual accounts alongside those of Mr Murrell and Mr Beattie.

Until her resignation, she was one of the three “registered officers” of the party recorded by the Electoral Commission.

Mr Beattie was the Treasurer while Mr Murrell was formally the “nominating officer” and “campaigns officer”.

Mr Beattie had repeatedly reassured SNP members about the party’s accounts, saying money raised was “woven through” them despite less being held in cash at the bank.

After Mr Beattie’s arrest, Mr Yousaf rejected opposition calls to suspend him, saying a person was innocent until proven guilty, although he might act if Mr Beattie was charged. 

But when Mr Beattie missed his first Holyrood duty since his arrest - he skipped today’s economy committee - it raised questions about his ability to carry on as before. 

It also appeared untenable that Mr Beattie, who literally signs the SNP’s accounts each year, could continue as treasurer while the subject of a live police investigation.

The Herald:

In ther morning, deputy FM Shona Robison said Mr Beattie was "a man of integrity" but added she expected him to be speaking to Mr Yousaf later in the day.

By lunchtime, party managers were looking for committee replacements for Mr Beattie and at just after 430pm the SNP released a statement from the MSP.

In it, Mr Beattie said: “This afternoon I informed the party leader that I will be stepping back from my role as SNP National Treasurer with immediate effect.

“I have also informed the SNP Chief Whip at Holyrood that I will be stepping back from my role on the Public Audit Committee until the Police investigation has concluded.

“On a personal level, this decision has not been easy, but it is the right decision to avoid further distraction to the important work being led by Humza Yousaf to improve the SNP’s governance and transparency.

“I will continue to cooperate fully with Police Scotland’s enquiries and it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further on a live case."

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “This is the right decision, made by the wrong man.

“While Humza Yousaf played for time and failed to do the right thing, Colin Beattie at least could see the writing on the wall.

“For too long, a culture of secrecy and cover-up has been allowed to fester at the heart of the SNP.

“And while the investigation spreads, the SNP is still refusing to take the basic step of suspending MSPs who are the subject of police inquiries.

“Humza Yousaf’s failure to act has made it clear -  his priority is the cover up to protect the SNP, not the people of Scotland.”

Scottish Tory chair Craig Hoy said: “Colin Beattie’s resignation highlights Humza Yousaf’s total lack of leadership in tackling the ever-growing scandal engulfing the SNP.

“As soon as Colin Beattie was arrested, the First Minister should have immediately suspended him as SNP treasurer and a party member, as well asking him to stand aside from the two key Holyrood committees he sits on. Instead he has been allowed to depart on his own terms.

“Humza Yousaf is like a rabbit in the headlights. His failure to remove Colin Beattie from these roles – as well as not suspending Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon – makes a mockery of claims that he has taken decisive action."

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Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "This position must be one of the least appealing vacancies in Scottish political history.

"In a matter of months the SNP have lost their leader, chief executive, their auditors and now their treasurer.

"Continuity candidate Humza Yousaf is being consumed by the chaos wracking his party.

"Scots who want a government focused on NHS waiting lists, broken down ferries and the sewage being pumped into rivers will be shaking their heads."

Ms Sturgeon is absent from Holyrood at the moment.

The former FM ostensibly stayed away to leave the limelight to her predecessor, who attempted a policy relaunch yesterday.

Her spokesperson claimed it had “always” been her plan to  do so, although no date has been given for her return other than “the near future”.

In truth, Ms Sturgeon would be the inevitable focus of media attention if she returned, and a distraction for Mr Yousaf.

There is speculation that she may step down early as the MSP for Glasgow Southside, rather than wait to 2026.