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Titan of Scottish politics, Nicola Sturgeon, arrested

Former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says she is innocent after being arrested and held for more than seven hours as part of a police probe into the fate of funds for her pro-independence Scottish National Party.

The police investigation is looking at what happened to more than 600,000 pounds ($1.1 million) in funding raised by Scottish independence campaigners in 2017 which was supposed to have been ring-fenced, but may have been used for other purposes.

The arrest is deeply embarrassing for the SNP, which has dominated Scottish politics for most of the last two decades.

Sturgeon stood down earlier this year, and support for the party and its aim of independence has since dropped.

“To find myself in the situation I did today when I am certain I have committed no offence is both a shock and deeply distressing… I would never do anything to harm either the SNP or the country,” she said in a statement posted on Twitter.

“Given the nature of this process, I cannot go into detail. However, I do wish to say this… I know beyond doubt that I am, in fact, innocent of any wrongdoing.”

Earlier a spokesperson for Sturgeon said she had by arrangement attended an interview with Police Scotland to be arrested and questioned, and was cooperating with the investigation.

Police Scotland said a 52-year-old woman had been arrested at 10.09 am local time as a suspect in connection with its probe into the SNP’s finances, before being released without charge at 5.24 pm pending further investigation.

“As the investigation is ongoing, we are unable to comment further,” Police Scotland said.

The SNP said it had been cooperating with the investigation and would continue to do so. “It is not appropriate to publicly address any issues while that investigation is ongoing,” a spokesperson said.

In April, Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell and the party’s then treasurer Colin Beattie were both arrested and then released without charge pending further investigation as part of the same probe.

Sturgeon, Murrell and Beattie were all signatories on the SNP’s accounts.

At the time of Murrell’s arrest, police carried out a lengthy search of the couple’s home in Glasgow, which was sealed off with blue and white police tape.

Sturgeon, the longest serving leader of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government, caught the political world by surprise when she announced her resignation in February, saying she had become too divisive to lead her country to independence.

Scots rejected ending the more than 300-year-old union with England by 55 per cent to 45 per cent in a 2014 referendum, but the Brexit vote two years later and Scotland’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic brought new support for independence.

The Conservative government in Westminster has refused a new referendum, and polls show support for the SNP and independence have dropped since Sturgeon’s departure.

Opposition parties have accused the SNP of being mired in scandal and too focused on independence to govern Scotland properly.

The Labour Party’s Scotland spokesperson Ian Murray said there was a culture of “secrecy and cover-up” in the SNP.

“The same culture that leads to police tents in front gardens has created the deeply dysfunctional government that is currently failing Scots,” he said.

Sturgeon’s successor Humza Yousaf has described the police investigation as challenging, but has defended the SNP’s record and accused the Westminster government of interfering in the governing of Scotland and making devolution unworkable.

— AAP

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