Monday 12 June 2023

What's the crime?


It is just possible that I have watched too many detective dramas on television over the years. They’re all very formulaic: a crime, usually a murder (or, for Scottish viewers, a myrrdyrr) is committed, the police investigate, and the culprit is identified and arrested. It’s the order that is important – crime, investigation, arrest. Real life is obviously more complicated than that, as we’ve seen in the police investigation into the finances of the SNP.

I won’t claim to be exactly an impartial observer; I want the SNP to achieve its aim, and I have long been impressed with the political ability of Nicola Sturgeon, and her ability to give straight answers to straight questions, speak from the heart, and show a degree of empathy which is so rare in the average UK politician. It follows that I might possibly be allowing my own preconceptions, as well as my understanding of the normal flow of events, to colour my opinion on the events that are unfolding. But what’s still unclear to me is what crime the police think they’re investigating – and indeed, whether there has even been a crime at all. And I’m not entirely sure that they know either; if they do, they certainly haven’t been very forthright about saying what it is. It all seems to revolve around whether money raised by a party whose sole raison d’être is to gain independence for Scotland has been spent on a specific campaign for a specific referendum which has yet to be called or has been used in other ways to promote the idea of independence with an implicit understanding that a similar amount will be made available for that specific campaign if and when it happens. The idea that money would simply be locked away in some sort of separate account for years in readiness for a campaign which might not happen for some time is a strange one for anyone with any understanding of political financing.

Whatever, the very fact of an investigation and a series of high profile arrests on suspicion of ‘something or other’ has been a gift to the anti-independence forces in Scotland, and I really can’t blame them for making the most of it while they can. They’re hardly going to wait for the outcome of an investigation which might very well conclude that no crime has been committed before attacking the SNP, are they? Even if there is a potential for a large volume of egg to end up on their faces. The police are, I suppose, just doing their job: they’ve received one or more complaints and are investigating them. Whether the investigation really needed to take as long as it has is another question. It seems to be grindingly slow in coming to any sort of conclusion and that slow pace is certainly allowing the SNP’s enemies to make the most of their opportunity, although I suspect that the slowness is more to do with lack of resources than with any political motivation. An investigation into something where there might not even be a crime is not – and should not be – the top priority for any police force, however politically inconvenient that might be for those under investigation. It would be an outrage, though, if the investigation were to drag on in such a way as to impact the outcome of the next general election, especially if the conclusion were that no action should be taken. That would look to be very political indeed.

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