Nicola Sturgeon arrest: Will the former first minister be suspended from the SNP? Why can a MSP be suspended?
The former first minister was arrested on June 11 as part of Police Scotland’s ongoing investigation into the party’s finances, namely £660,000 in donations given to the party for independence campaigning.
This comes after the party’s former chief executive Peter Murrell, the husband of Ms Sturgeon, and the party’s former treasurer Colin Beattie, were also arrested as part of the same investigation. All three were released without charge the same day as their arrest.
Now Ms Sturgeon is facing multiple calls to resign from the SNP, or to be suspended, including some from within her own party.
We take a look at the ins and outs of what could happen next for Ms Sturgeon.
Could Nicola Sturgeon resign from the SNP?
Some have called on Ms Sturgeon to voluntarily give up her party membership.
The Edinburgh Eastern MSP told BBC’s Good Morning Scotland: “We do have a code of conduct in the SNP, which says members should refrain from conduct likely to cause damage or hinder the party’s aims.
“I think Nicola will no doubt be considering whether to resign from the party at the moment.”
When things have turned negative for high-profile SNP members in the past, this is the option some have chosen.
In 2017, for example, former first minister Alex Salmond resigned from the SNP while he challenged the Scottish Government in court over allegations of sexual harassment. He said he would reapply for membership as soon as he cleared his name, but this never happened.
At the time Ms Sturgeon said: “The party’s rules apply to all members and no one is above them.”
Following her arrest Ms Sturgeon released a statement maintaining her innocence, meaning it is unlikely this will happen at this stage.
Could she have the whip removed?
Losing the whip would see Ms Sturgeon expelled from the SNP until the whip is restored. Currently George Adam, MSP for Paisley, is the chief SNP whip in Holyrood.
This is something Michelle Thomson, the MSP for Falkirk East, has called for.
Ms Thomson had to resign the SNP whip amid a wider investigation into allegations of fraud. The Crown Office later said there was insufficient evidence to launch a criminal proceeding.
She said: “The processes set by the SNP under her leadership were clear. I feel that the right thing for the former first minister to do is resign the SNP whip. This is not because she doesn’t deserve to be treated as innocent until proven guilty - she does, but because her values should be consistent.”
Could Humza Yousaf suspend her?
Humza Yousaf has already publicly stated he will not be suspending Ms Sturgeon’s SNP membership. He also did not suspend Mr Murrell or Mr Beattie’s memberships when they were arrested.
Mr Yousaf’s position is one echoed by Chris Law, SNP MP for Dundee West. He was arrested in 2016 after allegations of financial irregularities in his pro-independence tour.
He said: “I had the support of the first minister Nicola Sturgeon and I was not suspended from the party. This should be the right course for anyone that is in that position.”
That hasn’t stopped others within the party calling for her to be suspended.
Angus Brendan MacNeil, MP for the Western Isles, said: “This soap opera has gone far enough, Nicola Sturgeon suspended others from the SNP for an awful lot less. Time for political distance until the investigation ends either way.”
What has happened in the past?
Several MSPs and MPs have been suspended or been forced to resign from the SNP after being arrested or being involved in a public scandal, including a number while Ms Sturgeon was party leader.
Margaret Ferrier lost the SNP whip for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules. She has recently been suspended from the House of Commons as well and it is widely anticipated this will lead to a by-election in her Rutherglen and Hamilton West constituency.
In 2020 former transport minister Derek Mackay was suspended after it was revealed he had been messaging a 16-year-old boy on social media.
Natalie McGarry withdrew from the party whip after she was sentenced to two years in prison for embezzling £25,000 from the SNP and a pro-independence group. This sentence was later cut to 20 months.
And in 2017 Mark MacDonald was suspended after admitting to “inappropriate” behaviour towards women.
Could Ms Sturgeon be suspended as an MSP?
It is very unlikely she will be suspended as an MSP. Even if she is suspended from the SNP, she will probably continue to serve as MSP for Glasgow Southside as an independent.
There is a high bar that needs to be met before an MSP can be suspended, for example if an MSP is imprisoned for more than a year.
This would not apply to Ms Sturgeon as she has been released without charge.
Holyrood’s standards committee can also exclude members for a short period of time for misdemeanours such as breaching the parliamentary code of conduct.
This happened in May when Maggie Chapman, Green MSP for the North East, was suspended from one committee meeting after she questioned Rape Crisis Scotland’s chief executive during a meeting on gender reform and failed to declare she was employed by Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre.
Again, this is unlikely to be relevant in Ms Sturgeon’s case.
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