Nicola Sturgeon has said her party will learn “any lessons that require to be learned” from the growing controversy over a prominent MP’s property deals, which were allegedly linked to mortgage fraud.
Interviewed ahead of the SNP’s annual conference in Aberdeen this week, Sturgeon said her party “should operate to the highest standards”. The former business spokesperson Michelle Thomson resigned from the party last month.
Sturgeon told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “As SNP leader, if there is action that requires to be taken as a result of this investigation that is under way, that action will be undertaken because we should operate to the highest standards because the people of Scotland have a right to expect that.”
Opposition parties have continued their calls for an independent inquiry after it emerged on Friday that Thomson’s solicitor, whose investigation by Police Scotland prompted the MP to resign the party whip, was first reported by the Law Society of Scotland to the Serious and Organised Crime Agency four years ago.
Asked whether the scandal was an indictment of the SNP’s candidate vetting procedures, Sturgeon replied: “As a party we’ve quadrupled in size over the past year so that makes it all the more important that we make sure systems like vetting processes are robust and fit for purpose.
“So we will learn any lessons that require to be learned. I’m simply not prepared to jump to conclusions about an investigation that is currently under way. Even MPs are entitled to a presumption of innocence.”
The SNP leader has previously said she was unaware of the legal controversy until the allegations first emerged in the media. All SNP candidates have an obligation, which is made clear on their application form, to make the party aware of anything that may cause it embarrassment now or in the future. The party has the option to sanction candidates who fail to disclose information during vetting.
The Sunday Times reported that the Electoral Commission is to examine a complaint about the influence of the SNP chief executive, Peter Murrell, over the pro-independence group Business for Scotland, which first brought Thomson to prominence during last year’s referendum campaign.
It has been alleged that Murrell, who is married to Sturgeon, played a key role in the group’s activities, and the commission has been asked to investigate whether, as a consequence, the strict rules around campaign spending for separate organisations were broken.
Sturgeon was also questioned about recent criticism over education and policing policy, to which she responded: “This is going to be one of the messages to the party conference this week: I’m not going to rest on our laurels. I think we’ve got a record to be proud of and we will go into the election defending it vigorously.”
She suggested that if Britain were to leave the EU, demand for another referendum on independence could become “unstoppable”.
“If we do see a scenario over the next couple of years where Scotland votes to stay in the European Union but we find ourselves being taken out of the EU anyway, then that so fundamentally changes the nature of the UK that people voted to stay part of last year that I think it is very likely that we see rising demand for another referendum.”
She added: “I think we would see demand for another referendum in those circumstances perhaps be unstoppable.”
This article was written by Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 11th October 2015 11.38 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010