Scotland politics

Natalie McGarry withdraws from SNP whip over campaign fund probe

Natalie McGarry
Image caption Ms McGarry has said she was ready to meet police officers to discuss the matter

An MP has withdrawn from the SNP whip amid a police investigation over apparent discrepancies in an independence campaign fund.

Natalie McGarry was caught up in a probe after concerns were raised by Women for Independence.

The Glasgow East MP said her decision was done "in the best interests of the party", but she maintained she had done "nothing wrong".

Ms McGarry is the second of the new May intake to resign from the SNP.

In September, MP Michelle Thomson - who won her Edinburgh West seat along with 55 other SNP candidates at this year's general election - also withdrew from the party after she became the subject of a Police Scotland investigation into alleged irregularities with property deals.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Michelle Thomson, MP for Edinburgh West, resigned the SNP whip in September

Speaking after Ms McGarry resigned the whip, First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon told BBC Scotland there were no issues with the party's vetting process.

She said: "I would rather not be in a position where an MP has to stand aside temporarily in order to have an investigation, but I think that's the right thing to have done.

"Natalie McGarry is entitled to the presumption of innocence. She is asserting, vigorously, that she has done nothing wrong. She is entitled to that presumption and I will certainly accord her it."

Ms McGarry was one of the founding members of Women for Independence, which played a leading role in the independence campaign and has continued to campaign since.

The group said it had been examining its finances relating to a period between 2014 and its formal constitution as an organisation in March 2015, after senior staff raised concerns over apparent discrepancies between donations made to the group and its expenditure.

Scottish Labour had called for Ms Sturgeon to suspend Ms McGarry from the party, with MSP Jackie Baillie saying the probe could potentially "cast genuine doubt" over her election.

Image caption Ms Sturgeon said Ms McGarry withdrawing from the SNP whip was "the right thing to do"

Earlier in the day, the first minister said she wanted more information about the basis or substance of the "very serious allegations" before taking any action.

At teatime, solicitor Aamer Anwar issued a statement on behalf of Ms McGarry saying his client had withdrawn from the whip which would see her automatically suspended from the party.

He said: "She has taken this step in the best interests of the party and the constituents of the East End who voted for her.

"She maintains she has done nothing wrong but is conscious that the events of the last 48 hours are distracting from the job she was elected to do on behalf of the SNP.

"She has a proud record as a principled activist and is determined to clear her name."

Mr Anwar said he had instructed forensic accountants to study the case and assist Police Scotland in their investigation. He also released emails from police saying they were attempting to establish whether there was "criminality involved" in the case.

'Who knew what?'

A spokesman for the SNP said: "Natalie McGarry MP has today indicated that she will temporarily be removing herself from the SNP whip at Westminster, which as a result will see her membership of the Scottish National Party suspended while the matter is investigated.

"She now hopes that the investigation can proceed as quickly as possible, is clear that there has been no wrongdoing on her part, and will not be commenting further until the matter is resolved."

Ms Baillie, who had earlier written to the first minister urging her to suspend Ms McGarry, welcomed the news.

She said: "It is disappointing that as leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon did not act earlier. Now we need to know who knew what, and when, in the SNP about these allegations."

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw added: "The SNP is all over the place with this - first Nicola Sturgeon dithers and takes no action, then hours later Natalie McGarry takes it upon herself to resign the whip."

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