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The Great Indyref Swindle

Posted on April 06, 2021 by

It’s probably past time that we put this all in one post for easy reference.

Herald journalists with no idea what a story is, start here.

Our tale begins in March 2016, when lottery winners Chris and Colin Weir each issued a loan of £500,000 to the SNP, which logic would suggest was intended to assist with fighting that year’s Holyrood election seven weeks later.

(Because they’d made similar loans a year earlier for the UK election, which had been paid back five months later. They also donated £250,000 each in April 2017, a few days after Theresa May called a snap UK election for June that year. It fits within an established pattern of them giving the party money for election campaigns.)

The SNP duly won the Holyrood election comfortably, although they lost their majority in the process. But it was seven more weeks on from then that things got interesting.

On the 23rd of June 2016, the UK voted narrowly to leave the European Union, while Scotland voted by a huge 24-point margin to remain. The next day Nicola Sturgeon made a speech in which she vowed to “do what it takes” to prevent Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will.

[SPOILER: Scotland was taken out of the EU against its will.]

She was clear about what that meant:

Nine months later, in March 2017, the Scottish Parliament duly voted in favour of a second independence referendum, to be held “before the UK leaves the EU”.

But we’ve skipped ahead slightly there. Because a couple of weeks earlier the SNP had already jumped the gun and launched a fundraiser for that second referendum without waiting for the Holyrood vote, aiming to raise an ambitious £1 million.

There was no ambiguity about what the money was supposed to be for. Even the domain name of the website – ref.scot – made the purpose clear, and every page emphasised that the fundraiser was for a future referendum campaign, not just general SNP funds.

Indeed, the SNP weren’t mentioned at all except in the tiny, legally-required small print at the bottom.

The site included a video:

It features an unequivocal pledge: that “when the options are clear”, there would be a choice between leaving the EU with the rest of the UK, and avoiding that fate via a second referendum on independence.

So everyone knew exactly what they were donating money for.

The fundraiser ran for three months before being abruptly shut down without warning in June 2017, the day after the snap general election Theresa May had called to try to give herself a stronger hand over Brexit negotiations, and at which the SNP had lost 21 of their 56 seats.

The SNP said that this was to ensure separation between the indyref fundraiser and fundraising for the general election, even though the page had been live right up to election day and had run alongside a separate election appeal.

For some unknown reason the ScotRef appeal was not restored after the election, even though the fund was less than halfway to its target. The last known total on the page was £482,000.

It was at this point that controversy started to arise.

Opposition parties accused the SNP of using the referendum fundraiser money in its election campaign – something the SNP furiously denied, insisting in the starkest terms that the £482,000 would be “frozen” in its accounts until such times as there was a new referendum.

The SNP has maintained that position in public ever since. Indeed, it had already been giving donors private assurances on the subject since almost immediately after the ref.scot appeal was launched.

Especially alert readers may have noted that the above responses from Jim Henderson appear to identify a specific designated “Referendum Campaign” fund in the party accounts – something that the SNP’s national treasurer would subsequently deny the existence of. But we’ll get to that later.

Now, at this stage we need to rewind slightly. Remember back at the start of this article Chris and Colin Weir had each just loaned the SNP £500,000 for the 2016 Holyrood election? Well, at some point in 2016 one of those loans was paid back, as revealed by the party’s 2016 accounts.

That left the SNP with less than £53,000 in the bank.

For some reason the Electoral Commission website lists both loans as having been repaid on 1 December 2017, even though it looks on first reading like one of them was in fact repaid the previous year.

The 2017 accounts appear to back that assertion – they list loan repayments of just over £500,000 in each of 2016 and 2017, and they can only have been to the Weirs because nobody else has ever loaned anything like that much money to the SNP.

(Its biggest previous loan was £200,000 from the Royal Bank of Scotland in April 2011, again just before a Holyrood election and again paid back in August of the same year. The Weirs won the Euromillions in July 2011.)

[EDIT: We subsequently heard back from the Electoral Commission explaining that what happened was that rather paying back one of the loans in full, the SNP paid back HALF of each loan in 2016 (ie £250K to Colin Weir and £250K to Christine Weir) and the other half in 2017, so neither debt was cleared until December 2017.

That has no impact on anything else in this article, it just explains the apparent discrepancy in terms of the Commission’s records.] 

So at this stage we have four quite interesting facts:

(1) At the start of 2017 the SNP owed half a million pounds to Chris and/or Colin Weir. Unlike most of their previous election borrowings it hadn’t been paid back within six months. The party simply didn’t have the money to do so.

(2) The party then raised roughly half a million pounds from the “ringfenced” ref.scot fundraiser between March and June of 2017.

(3) Nobody knows where that half-million pounds is now, but it certainly doesn’t appear in the SNP’s most recent accounts, which show a cash balance of just £97,000 despite the ref.scot money supposedly having been “frozen” in the bank until such times as a second referendum campaign, something that hasn’t happened yet.

(4) But what we do know is that the outstanding half-million pounds in loans to the Weirs was repaid in December 2017, leaving the party with less than £8,000 in the bank by the end of that year.

Could these facts by any chance be connected? We don’t know. But we do know that after April 2017 the Weirs never donated or loaned any money to the SNP again. Colin Weir, a lifelong member and supporter who sadly died in late 2019 with £41m in the bank, didn’t leave a penny of it to the party.

In terms of large donations Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership has alienated the general public and big business alike, to the extent that she’s become so desperate to get some sizeable cheques into the coffers she’ll do just about anything.

It may also explain why by 2017 the party’s fundraising efforts had shifted focus, from trying to get people to donate to the SNP itself to using causes like a second indyref or a non-existent guidebook to independence.

There has in fact never been any detectable trace of the ref.scot money in the SNP accounts since 2017. At the close of that year, despite having received £482,000 for the supposed campaign, the party had just £7,906 in the bank and total assets of almost £100,000 less than it had received in ref.scot donations alone.

At the end of 2018 (the first year since 2014 that there hadn’t been an election or a referendum to fight, and in which the SNP therefore got to trouser close to £3.5m in membership fees and UK government funding without any major outlays), that amount had increased to £411,042 – still well below the fundraiser receipts.

But a year later, after another snap election, it was back down to £96,854 despite a new fundraiser ostensibly intended to produce an independence guidebook – though sometimes the description was downgraded to a “leaflet” – for every household in Scotland raising around £100,000.

Nearly two years on from the launch of the new appeal there’s still been no sign of the guide, despite the website once again having made very clear that all the money would be used for that particular purpose rather than just general SNP funding.

And again, Jim Henderson was keen to confirm that position.

The fundraiser is still accepting donations, but since last year there’s no longer been any reference on its website to the guidebook, and the SNP has never mentioned “An Independent Scotland: Household Guide” again.

Implausibly, the party continues to insist that between the 2017 and 2019 fundraisers it still has their combined total of almost £600,000 available to spend at a moment’s notice, with then-treasurer Colin Beattie infamously claiming in 2020 that the money was “woven through” the accounts in some unexplained way, although being woven through something else is the literal exact opposite of a thing being “ringfenced”.

(This would inescapably mean the separate “Referendum Campaign” fund mentioned by Jim Henderson back in 2017 has either been dissolved or forgotten about.)

It dismisses any notion that it’s been spent as an “utterly baseless conspiracy theory”.

But it refuses to tell anyone where the money can be found, and bizarrely in the same breath tells us that it’s actually spent some of it already, on unspecified “preparations” and on the creation of an “independence unit” (or “Marco Biagi” as the unit normally prefers to be called), and that it intends to have blown the lot by the end of 2021, even though there are no credible plans to hold a referendum either this year or next year.

[EDIT: Biagi quit after just four months as head/only member of the “independence unit”, calling it “the worst job I’ve ever had” but declining to elaborate further. His silence was rewarded with a job as “chief of staff” to Tommy Sheppard MP.]

And even questions from within the SNP’s own National Executive Committee about the money have been going unanswered for almost two years. (Colin Beattie wasn’t at the meeting below, but Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon were, although the publicity-shy Murrell seems to have ducked out of the group photo.)

It would, of course, be quite seriously illegal for a political party to be hiding half a million pounds off the books somewhere in a secret slush fund. And while the SNP has almost 300 “accounting units” (AUs) registered with the Electoral Commission, mainly local branches, none has ever filed accounts which could explain them being used to hold the ref.scot money.

(Any AU receiving over £25,000 in a year has to file separate accounts.)

By a very big distance the largest SNP AU outside the central party is the Westminster Group of MPs – no other SNP AU has ever declared income in six figures.

In 2017 the Westminster Group declared £421,157 in “miscellaneous” income, which is actually the two levies taken by the party from MPs’ staffing allowances and salaries – around £14,000 a year per head – and known as the “pooled budgets income” (PBI).

(That’s why the 2017 PBI figure is significantly lower than the 2016 one, after the party lost 40% of its MPs halfway through the year.)

The PBI and Short money are the WM Group’s only sources of funds.

So the money can ONLY have passed into (and out of) the central-party accounts, because there’s nowhere else it could lawfully be.

At the end of the day, then, by far the most plausible explanation – indeed the only one – for the Mystery Of The Missing Money seems to in fact be a remarkably and surprisingly straightforward one: the ref.scot funds were used to pay off £500,000 of loans to Chris and Colin Weir in late 2017 and have never been seen again.

On that basis, everything in the accounts adds up and makes sense. On any other basis, it simply doesn’t.

(When three members of the party’s own Finance Committee tried to carry out their legal duties this year by examining the books to verify the fact, they were refused sight of them by party CEO Peter Murrell and resigned to protect themselves from liability.)

[EDIT: They were subsequently joined by the party’s National Treasurer, who also stood down when Murrell refused to provide him with the access to the books required to perform his fiduciary duties. He was replaced by Colin Beattie, the previous Treasurer, who’d been rejected by the membership at the NEC election of November 2020 after his attempts at whitewashing the issue with the “woven through the accounts” line. Chapman had been elected on an explicit promise to bring greater transparency to the party’s finances, but Murrell prevented him from keeping it.]

And unfortunately for the SNP, if that’s true then it’s a clear case of common-law fraud. Nobody was asked for donations to pay off the SNP’s debts or for any other party purposes, they were asked for money to be kept in reserve for a future referendum.

[EDIT: Having initially refused refunds when people asked for their money back in the light of Wings’ revelations, the SNP swiftly U-turned after the police became involved and is now returning donations to anyone who asks.

In June the Mail On Sunday also reported that at some point prior to his death in late 2019, Colin Weir had asked for a donation to the referendum appeal be refunded – perhaps because he discovered it had gone into SNP general spending rather than a ringfenced indyref fund. Given that he wasn’t exactly short of a few quid it’s hard to imagine why else he’d want it back.]

Belatedly the party has tried to cover its tracks, by breaking its own promises and (notionally) spending the money before there’s another referendum, which is the exact same thing it’s angrily insisting it hasn’t done before now. (In reality, it’s rebadging normal staff wages as the ref.scot money to try to make it vanish retrospectively.)

[EDIT: Since this article was written the SNP has completely changed its story AGAIN, and now admits that the money WAS spent on other party business but says that this is simply normal “cash-flow” accounting and that in effect it has replaced the cash with IOUs, to be returned to the indyref fund from future revenues, possibly including new additional fundraisers.]

But it’s far too late for that. A crime appears to have been committed, the police are investigating, and the only way that Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon could get out of it now would be if the person in charge of criminal prosecutions in Scotland was also a minister in her government who was directly answerable to her and already had a worrying track record of deeply improper behaviour, or something mad like that.

And readers, what sort of a twisted, crooked joke of a country would that be?

Maybe you should ask “Nicky Special”.

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    516 to “The Great Indyref Swindle”

    1. Stephen says:

      Have the SNP issued any statement regarding the missing money?

    2. Willie says:

      The BBC on the attack. Really no different from state funded thugs who would beat you up you up with the boot and the baton.

      The modus operandi is exactly the same. Cripple your political opponent.

      But we should be under no illusion this state sponsored attacks on opponents is a spectrum.

      It is a, spectrum that ranges from using the media to attack, undermine and destroy opponents. It is a spectrum that corrupt police and prosecution services to pursue and jail political opponents and journalists, it is a spectrum that jails activists such as March organisers or twitter bloggers. And it is a spectrum that will kill if none of the foregoing work.

      And in that we only need look at the death of nationalist Willie MacRae. After having announced that evening at an SNP meeting in Glasgow that he had the evidence to bring down the Thatcher government, evidence that was widely believed to relate to a paedophile ring at the heart of Westminster, he was later that evening found shot dead as he travelled to his Highland cottage for the weekend.

      But you only need to look across the water to Northern Ireland to see the extent of state intervention and state killing in the fight to destroy political opponents against Westminster rule.

      Johnson and his ilk would do the same here. The leopard has not changed its spots and what we are seeing from the press and the media is ll part of the spectrum.

      So let us give our parliament the thumping majority. We will have international law and international friends on our side.

      Let’s get the message out to do that.

    3. Willie says:

      Why are my posts disappearing Rev?

    4. Meg merrilees says:

      Breaks- thanks for the video link- surely that is NOT the SNP party political broadcast. It’s horrendous! Looks like something a student produced- mind you with no funds maybe that is what they’ve done!

    5. Fred says:

      Just drop it the other women were all liars. It was a stitch up.
      He who is without sin cast the first stone. Ring any bells?

      Kiwilassie, I completely agree with you and have never disputed any of it, despite my detractors opinions – and I do not come from a place of judgement either.
      Everybody is completely missing my point. AS was asked a question- an important question regards how he could possibly work with NS when she had stated her refusal to work with him until he demonstrates contrition. All I’ve done is point out the bleeding obvious in saying he completely avoided answering it.
      If anything people should be venting their frustration at NS for adopting that position – but it is an important stumbling block which exists right now and may affect how people vote.
      Look, for Alba to work it’s going to take more than just diehards to elect them into a position of power. So, at this stage why would the layperson knowingly want to saddle Scotland with years of grudge, bun-fighting and zero progress by voting Alba? (Before anyone says it I realise the irony in that they could get that by using both votes SNP too!)

      There’s definitely an appetite for people to see AS ‘in the ring’ with NS at Holyrood, which Im sure will make great viewing- but sadly in reality it’s us plebs and our children who lose out because of two fractured egos that refuse to back down to each other. 🙁

    6. Dan says:

      @ Wille at 9.24am

      Your posts aren’t disappearing. A new comment page starts after 500 comments are made.
      You will see a link to Older Comments under the last one on this current page.

    7. Jockanese Wind Talker says:

      The BritNats accuse Salmond of being a Kremlin stooge because he has a program on RT but don’t accuse George Galloway of the same thing.

      Rehashed tired old smears and tropes is all they have left, broadcast via a dying media to an ever diminishing audience.

      We however are legion!

      SNP 1
      ALBA 2

    8. Mark Boyle says:

      @Willie

      I’m amazed your posts aren’t disappearing for writing such utter shite about “… the death of nationalist Willie MacRae. After having announced that evening at an SNP meeting in Glasgow that he had the evidence to bring down the Thatcher government, evidence that was widely believed to relate to a paedophile ring at the heart of Westminster …”

      MacRae never said or believed anything of the sort.

      He’d told someone on the phone he’d evidence about Dounraey not exactly being as safe as they’d made it out to be, and proof they’d known about this from the off and covered it up, which is more than likely the reason he was murdered by the powerful nuclear lobby in the UK.

      What’s with the noncing obsessives appearing all over the comments sections over the last 24 hours anyway?

    9. Dorothy Devine says:

      Breeks , it was indeed utter ordure.

      I have just watched Alex Salmond being interviewed by the lovely Pilar – well worth a watch.

    10. crazycat says:

      @ Fred at 9.32

      There were other questions he didn’t answer, either by missing them out completely, or by being very brief. For instance, Muir Dickie asked him to explain the difference between a referendum and a plebiscite, and I was keen to hear the answer – but he moved on to the next questioner instead.

      I realize you may think the non-answer you’ve highlighted is more important than the others, but there was presumably a time limit, and each “journalist” only got a brief slice of the session. Maybe the full answer would have taken so long it would have disrupted the whole Q&A.

      I have no doubt he’ll be asked again, so I can wait. (All politicians answer the question they wish they had been asked rather than the one they were asked, of course.)

    11. David A. says:

      How long will it take for them to fully seal themselves up in their palace of power and have merely questioning them like people do here become a “crime”?

    12. Brian Doonthetoon says:

      Hi Daisy walker.

      The SNP losing a constituency seat does not guarantee them a list seat.

      They lost a constituency in NE Scotland in 2016 but didn’t get a list seat.

    13. Brian Doonthetoon says:

      Sorry – posted in the wrong tab!

    14. David Caledonia says:

      They talk about a once in a generation referendum in 2014 as if it was carved in stone and brung down from the mountain by moses.
      Meanwhile we have a general election at least once every 5 years, No talk of once in a generation there,of and it gets curiouser and curiouser.
      Boris and his band of Hope_Less tosspots change their minds every 5 minutes and that is seen as normal.
      The solution is so simple even my pet elephant could understand it, every 5 years, or whenever a general election is called ask the people of scotland on the polling card, would you like scotland to be an independent country, then if its a no we can get on with our lives until the next general election comes around, if its a yes we hold a referendum and if the scottish people vote yes we start the process to become an independent country.

      As simple as falling off a bus blind drunk
      As I have done many a time, heh heh heh

      I maybe lying pissed in the gutter, but at least I’m looking up at the stars

    15. James Blair says:

      Just out of interest why do you have to refer to people with differing views as tosspots? Also would you say that to their faces? Really sick of this arms length internet bravery whereby people are insulted from afar with no risk of comeback. What happened to civil discourse whatever your view?

    16. Moira Girvan says:

      Why this new found love for Sturgeon in the Scottish press/media? I can’t have been the only one to notice it. The op-ed in today’s Scotsman could have been written by the worst of SNP’s hacks. As for the “Herald” – they’re trying too hard. Making it just all too obvious. Nice try.



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