It’s difficult to know where to even start on the absolutely extraordinary reaction to our post about yesterday’s meeting of the SNP National Executive Committee. Our traffic exploded to levels not seen since 2014, racking up tens of thousands of pageviews an hour, and social media was aflame with argument into the small hours of the morning.
A whole raft of issues arose from our exclusive revelations, but the one we want to talk about now is the one that was buried at the bottom of what a panicked SNP hastily and laughably produced as the “minutes” of the meeting, and we didn’t even notice it until a couple of hours after the original post.
And that’s weird, because it’s £2.1m of money the SNP simply doesn’t have.
The £1.5m allocated to this year’s election campaign is pretty much the same as the £1.56m the party spent in 2019’s UK general election – a year in which the SNP made a financial loss of £319,000 and wiped out most of its cash reserves.
So it’s questionable whether the party would actually be able to afford to spend such a sum again from its 2020-21 income (ie the period since the last published accounts). It’s struggled for large donations for years, and has been pulling all sort of tricks in the last 18 months or so just to stay afloat and keep paying the six-figure salaries of its top executives like Peter Murrell and Sue Ruddick.
(Such as retaining the 25% “dividend” of member subs normally returned to branches, and sending out a series of letters asking members to pay their annual fees early.)
Though in fact it’s doubtful whether it really intends to spend the £1.5m at all, because several branch officials and others have sent us messages like the below:
But the really dodgy bit was this:
And that’s because the “ring-fenced” £600,000 still hasn’t been found. It isn’t in the 2019 accounts, and nobody has yet provided a scrap of evidence for where it went.
And it wasn’t meant to be spent on “preparations” either – it was supposed to be ringfenced for an actual campaign, and we know that there’s going to be no campaign this year because there isn’t going to be a referendum, because COVID-19 is still running rampant, and Boris Johnson isn’t going to concede a Section 30, and even if he did after the May election (assuming it goes ahead, and delivers an indy majority) there wouldn’t be time to actually make the vote happen in 2021, and if the SNP tries to hold a referendum without Westminster co-operation then we’re looking at probably years of legal wrangling, and half a dozen other really really really obvious reasons why there absolutely won’t be a 2021 indyref.
“Preparations”, then, is a meaningless word that covers a multitude of shenanigans. Allow us to illustrate.
A few weeks ago the SNP announced the appointment of Marco Biagi to head a new “taskforce” charged with “laying the groundwork for a new Yes campaign” – a woolly enough definition on its own. Biagi was also to be supplemented, readers were told, with “existing SNP headquarters staff and strategists across the party”.
And there’s the trick.
Because if a clutch of existing staff – whose wages the SNP are already paying – are assigned to Biagi’s “taskforce”, then the party can claim that those wages have actually been expended in pursuit of the new “preparations”.
The SNP spent £1.1m on staff costs in 2019. So if were to redesignate around half of its current employees as members of this new group – and remember, “preparing for independence campaigning” is pretty much the basic job description of ANY employee of the SNP at any time, so it’s not like they’d have to do anything different – then hey presto, 12 months later it can say it’s just spent the “ring-fenced” £600K and never have to answer questions about it again, even though it was really all spent two years ago on securing Pete Wishart and Alyn Smith’s pensions. Phew, that was close!
Now of course, you may choose to dismiss this as nothing but cynical supposition. And since it hasn’t actually happened yet, the “supposition” part is certainly accurate. But ask yourself this, readers – if it’s all above board, why now? What exactly are these “preparations”, when there’s nothing to prepare for? What will there be to show for it?
Because if all that money is indeed spent “this financial year” and then we somehow get an indyref in 2022, it’ll all be gone, exactly at the point it was needed and supposed to have been ring-fenced for.
And in the highly unlikely event of that happening under the current leadership, maybe you’ll be so happy about it that you won’t mind digging into your pocket again. But it won’t change the fact that you’ll have been robbed.