SNP depute leader accused of living in 'parallel universe' after claiming party is 'one of the most transparent' in the UK

The depute leader of the SNP has claimed his party is “one of the most transparent” in the UK, and has increased its membership in recent months, despite the escalating fallout over its finances and governance.

Veteran SNP MSP Keith Brown said while the party faced “internal challenges,” it was “more transparent” and “more successful” than any of its counterparts in Scotland, and claimed that it had increased its membership in recent months.

However, the former justice secretary also expressed “regret” that a landmark internal report he compiled outlining a series of recommendations for the party to strengthen scrutiny of its finances had not been “taken forward”.

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It comes amid increasing turmoil within the party as Police Scotland continues its investigation into its finances. Colin Beattie MSP quit last week as party treasurer after being arrested and released without charge by the force. He was subsequently replaced by Stuart McDonald, the MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East.

The party also faces a challenge in appointing new auditors. It emerged recently the firm Johnston Carmichael, which had worked with the SNP for more than a decade, quit the role last year. The party’s latest accounts are due to be filed to the Electoral Commission in July.

In an interview with BBC Radio Scotland’s Sunday Show programme, Mr Brown said First Minister Humza Yousaf deserved recognition for the action he had taken so far in the first weeks of his tenure as leader.

“What he has done right away is initiate a governance and transparency review, we’ve just seen the replacement of the national treasurer,” he said. “Action is being taken to make sure we meet these internal challenges, and in the meantime, we are one of the most transparent parties in the UK.”

Challenged on the fact the SNP initially denied reports in February that its membership had dropped by 30,000 – a row that led to the resignation of the party’s media chief, Murray Foote, and its chief executive, Peter Murrell – Mr Brown stressed no other party had disclosed its membership numbers.

SNP depute leader Keith BrownSNP depute leader Keith Brown
SNP depute leader Keith Brown

“We have a more transparent, more successful party than any other party in Scotland,” he added. “We have to increase that transparency. It’s my ambition, and I know that it’s Humza’s, to make sure that we are the most transparent party in Scotland, and that we set the standard for transparency, and shame the other parties.”

But Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy condemned Mr Brown’s “bizarre” claims, accusing the SNP of being “addicted to secrecy”, and suggesting the depute leader was “living in a parallel universe.”

Scottish Labour’s Daniel Johnson said: “For Keith Brown to say they are the most transparent in the UK when he didn't even know that the auditors had quit for months I think really demonstrates the real issue.”

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The internal report overseen by Mr Brown into the SNP’s transparency issues was completed in September 2021, two months after Police Scotland launched an investigation into potential criminality in the party’s fundraising.

SNP depute leader Keith BrownSNP depute leader Keith Brown
SNP depute leader Keith Brown

It called for the establishment of a new scrutiny committee to "restore confidence" in its financial procedures, and said the party should make public plans to spend money obtained via fundraising.

The report also advised "some processes that have developed in an ad hoc way within the party be set on a more formal footing" and recommended the treasurer receive "a monthly written summary of income and expenditure, confirmed via the bank account”.

It went on to recommend strengthening financial scrutiny, and said it would be "entirely appropriate" for the new committee to "provide constructive scrutiny of the SNP's finances", arguing such a step would "encourage good financial practices,” and had “the potential to pick up irregularities”.

Asked on Sunday about how that report had been received, and the failure of the party to take forward its recommendations, Mr Brown said: “The party’s national executive council considered that and decided to go a different route, putting it on to a smaller sub-committee, which would look at some of these issues. I regret the fact that wasn’t taken forward, but I am very pleased that on coming into office, Humza has immediately reinitiated a governance and transparency review, and has said he will take his lead from the work that we did previously.”

Mr Brown admitted the report’s recommendations included “contentious elements”, such as reducing the size of the national executive council, but said progress in the wake of his report had “not gone at the rate I think it should have gone” and “not done some of the things I think it should have done”.

He suggested that a key problem the party encountered was its sudden spike in members.

“Perhaps the most glaring issue for me was the fact that the party I had been in for 30 years and which had a membership never going above 15,000 or 20,000 suddenly had 100,000-plus members,” he explained. “We did not grow the support within the party, either for office bearers or for members, to the extent that we should have done to meet that challenge, and I think many of the issues stem from that particular fact.”

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However, he stressed “despite what we see in newspapers”, the party was “in very good heart”, with party activists wanting to see action taken to “rebuild trust” within the SNP and across the country.

The MSP for Clackmannanshire and Dunblane went on: “The activists within the SNP, and I’ve seen this in my own constituency as well, are determined to drive forward the agenda of the SNP. We’ve seen upticks in membership across the country, we’ve seen upticks in terms of donations.”

Asked to clarify the exact increase in members, Mr Brown said he did not have figures from across the nation yet, and stressed some members had also been lost. But he added: “The balance is showing an increase in membership.”



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