Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Image: ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)
The Nationalists spent £98,958 – just under the £100,000 limit – in a failed bid to oust the Lib Dems from their Shetland stronghold in August. Remarkably, that was more than Nicola Sturgeon’s party spent on campaigning in the Brexit referendum. Yesterday it emerged that two rental properties in Shetland had cost the SNP £8,034 – but only £4,590 was declared to the Electoral Commission.
The party said this was because the bedrooms were only used by campaigners 57 per cent of the time.
If the full bill had been submitted, the Nationalists would have gone £2,400 over the spending limit.
One election veteran was reported as saying they had never come across costs for accommodation being discounted in this way. The SNP also submitted 56 pages of receipts for the campaign backing candidate Tom Wills compared to 196 pages submitted by the Lib Dems, who spent £64,534 to help Beatrice Wishart win the seat.
Almost half of the SNP’s spending was covered by one two-page note from SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.
Totalling £46,533, it listed cash spent on ferry travel, flights, car hire, accommodation and staff costs – but only £232 was covered by a receipt. Ms Sturgeon visited Shetland three times during the campaign, along with appearances by SNP ministers, MPs and MSPs.
The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Tavish Scott, who stood down after 20 years to take a job with the Scottish Rugby Union.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Liam Kerr (Image: Ken Jack/Getty Images)
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Liam Kerr visited Shetland in support of Tory candidate Brydon Goodlad and was shocked by the scale of the fruitless assault on the seat.
He said: “The SNP threw absolutely everything at the Shetland by-election and still failed to get the job done. In doing so, they seem to have been very artful in interpreting the rules on election spending.
“They spent more than they did on campaigning to remain in the 2016 referendum, preferring instead to try to bolster their minority government. This further exposes their utter hypocrisy when blocking Brexit.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant added: “The SNP have serious questions to answer over their by-election spending returns. The strict rules governing elections are there to ensure a level playing field exists.
“Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon need to come clean over the SNP’s spending.”
An SNP spokesman dismissed the criticism of its spending returns as “idiotic, ill-informed and frankly laughable”. He added: “The SNP has an exemplary record in complying with electoral law.”