The SNP has warned the Electoral Commission of the “difficulty” it is having in finding new auditors after its previous firm resigned amid the controversy over the party’s finances.
The admission to the elections watchdog comes just months before a crunch deadline which requires political parties to submit their accounts to the agency by 7 July, or risk being fined.
The SNP is facing questions and accusations of secrecy over the timeline of the resignation of Johnston Carmichael, which was announced last week.
SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf said earlier on Tuesday they had quit “round about October” – months before the official announcement – but Sky News has now been told the auditors had in fact resigned a month earlier in September.
It is understood Johnston Carmichael informed the SNP in September 2022 that it would not be able to carry out the audit due for 2023 following a review of their client portfolio.
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The party then began approaching alternative firms in late 2022 to no avail, with the search intensifying in early 2023. As yet, the party has not been able to identify a firm with the available capacity.
Mr Yousaf raised eyebrows after he admitted he had also not been aware of Johnston Carmichael’s resignation last year, saying he could not “comment on what was done prior to me becoming a leader of the SNP”.
However, he agreed it was “extraordinary” that the party had failed to appoint a new set of auditors since they had resigned.
The struggle to find replacement auditors comes following the dramatic events of last week which prompted Johnston Carmichael to confirm it was no longer handling the SNP’s accounts.
Days before, Peter Murrell, the former party chief executive and Ms Sturgeon’s husband, was arrested and questioned by police investigating the party’s finances.
Mr Murrell, who had been in the role for 25 years, quit during the contest to find Ms Sturgeon’s successor after she unexpectedly announced her resignation.
Last week he was questioned by Police Scotland as part of its investigation into the whereabouts of £600,000 of party donations earmarked for independence campaigning.
It is understood there have been complaints the ringfenced cash may have been used improperly by being spent elsewhere.
Mr Murrell was later released without charge “pending further investigation”.
Opposition parties said Mr Yousaf’s revelation about the timing of the auditors’ resignation raised further questions about who knew what about their finances.
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MSP Jackson Carlaw, who was leader of the Scottish Conservatives from 2019 to 2020, tweeted: “Why did they hide it from the membership and the public? All very grubby and murky from the Nats. No wonder auditors resigned.”
Mr Yousaf, who was only elected leader just over two weeks ago, said one of the party’s “major priorities” was appointing new auditors “quickly”.
He said the SNP hopes to still have its accounts prepared in time to be submitted to the Electoral Commission in July, although he admitted it would be “problematic”.
An SNP spokesperson said: “We have informed the Electoral Commission of the difficulty in identifying replacement auditors and the national treasurer has made the party’s finance and audit committee aware.”