Natalie McGarry steps aside while police probe missing cash

Glasgow East MP Natalie McGarry. Picture: John Devlin
Glasgow East MP Natalie McGarry. Picture: John Devlin
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SNP MP Natalie McGarry withdrew from the party whip last night as the police continue to investigate missing donations from the prominent pro-independence group she helped set up.

Ms McGarry, a co-founder of Women For Independence who was elected MP for Glasgow East in May, insisted on Monday there had been “no wrongdoing on her part” after police were called in about tens of thousands of pounds of missing donations.

In a statement issued by her solicitor, she announced she had taken the decision “in the best interests of the party and the constituents of the East End who voted for her”.

“She maintains she has done nothing wrong but is conscious that the events of the last 48 hours are distracting from the job she was elected to do on behalf of the SNP,” the statement added. “She has a proud record as a principled activist and states she is determined to clear her name.”

Women for Independence reported discrepancies between donations and expenditure after concerns were first raised during the summer.

The group said it had been examining its finances relating to a period between 2014 and its formal constitution in March 2015.

The organisation was founded in 2012 and continued campaigning after playing a leading role in last year’s independence referendum.

The statement from Ms McGarry’s lawyer Aamer Anwar continued: “Fortunately in our legal system we still believe in a presumption of innocence.

“What has been reported to Police Scotland are financial discrepancies, yet they have not even established whether criminality is involved.

“Yesterday at Natalie’s request I contacted Police Scotland to advise them that she would speak to them if they wished.

“Today I have instructed forensic accountants to obtain all the necessary information which will then be provided on Natalie’s behalf to Women for Independence as well as Police Scotland to assist them in reaching a swift conclusion. Until that happens Natalie will on legal advice be making no further comment. She will continue to fight for the people of the east end.”

Her decision to step down also means that she loses her frontbench position as spokeswoman on disability issues and will now sit as an independent MP.

Ms McGarry’s decision to withdraw from the SNP’s whip comes just hours after the party leader, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, said she wanted more information before taking any action.

Scottish Labour and the Conservatives had called for the MP to be suspended.

Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: “Natalie McGarry is right to resign the SNP whip. It is disappointing that as the leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon didn’t act earlier.

“We now need to know who knew what, and when, in the SNP about these allegations. Nothing short of full transparency from the SNP will be accepted by the Scottish public.”

Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “The SNP is all over the place with this.

“First of all Nicola Sturgeon dithers and takes no action, then hours later Natalie McGarry takes it upon herself to resign the whip.

“This still doesn’t answer the question of the SNP’s poor record on vetting.”

Ms McGarry is the third SNP parliamentarian to be investigated by police in recent times, following scandals surrounding fellow MP Michelle Thomson in relation to property deals, and former MSP Bill Walker, who was jailed in 2013 for domestic abuse.

Earlier this year Ms Thomson resigned the SNP whip over her links to a series of property deals currently under investigation by the police.

She has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Carlaw added: “We’ve had Bill Walker with his domestic abuse conviction, Michelle Thomson’s property deals which is ongoing, and now this.

“Peter Murrell, the chief executive, now has questions to answer on this. This is highly damaging for Scottish politics, and very much brings it into disrepute.

“The SNP is very quick to point the finger at others for this kind of thing, so it must answer the questions we have posed as quickly as possible.”

Yesterday afternoon Ms McGarry and Ms Thomson were seen hugging in the doorway to the Commons chamber as MPs voted on SNP calls to scrap the Trident nuclear deterrent.

An SNP spokeswoman said: “Following the reporting to Police Scotland of issues relating to the accounts of Women for Independence, Natalie McGarry MP has indicated that she will temporarily be removing herself from the SNP whip at Westminster, which as a result will see her membership of the Scottish National Party suspended while the matter is investigated.

“Natalie McGarry has taken this step in order to allow the full and proper investigation of the issue. She now hopes that the investigation can proceed as quickly as possible, and is clear that there has been no wrongdoing on her part.”