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Scotland's former leader was arrested by police over governing party's finances

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Nicola Sturgeon, the former leader of Scotland, was arrested over the weekend. She says the experience was, quote, "deeply distressing." Scotland is part of the U.K. but has its own legislature. Until a few months ago, Sturgeon was its leader as the head of a party that favored full independence. But her party is under investigation for what it did with pro-independence campaign donations.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Reporter Willem Marx is following all this. Hey there.

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: How did the arrest work?

MARX: Well, in terms of the actual arrest, we know that she agreed ahead of time with Scottish police to be interviewed and was then arrested and questioned after she arrived for that interview. It's part of this two-year investigation into the finances of the Scottish National Party, focused on almost $1 million worth of donations by party activists that had been essentially earmarked for future pro-independence campaigning. And there are questions about what exactly happened to that money. Three people had been signing off on the party's accounts - the former CEO, who happens to be Sturgeon's husband, who stepped down from that role before his own arrest earlier this year; the party's treasurer, who was also arrested, then released earlier this year before resigning from that post; and now Sturgeon herself, who, let's not forget, dominated Scottish politics for the best part of a decade, with some eight years as the country's first minister.

INSKEEP: I think I understand this a little better. She said she was stunned by the arrest. And you're telling me that she did voluntarily go to the police station but may not have expected to be arrested while she was there for an interview? Is that right?

MARX: Absolutely right. Yeah.

INSKEEP: OK. So what does this arrest, particularly on these suspicions, mean for independence efforts in Scotland?

MARX: Well, you know, the party has already faced a huge amount of pressure, both from supporters and political opponents, even before this happened. Sturgeon's decision to step down as leader earlier this year sparked a leadership contest that was pretty divisive. The ongoing investigations completely overshadowed her successor Humza Yousaf's efforts to reunify the party. And in fact, there are now members of the SNP itself demanding that Sturgeon be suspended from the party. She's still a sitting member of the Scottish Parliament, insisted that her release - she'd return to work soon after that.

Part of the problem underlying all this is the challenging financial position for the party. The funds at question in this inquiry were for any future pro-independence referendum. The widely held expectation had been the party would continue pushing for this, even though legal avenues to make that happen have been pretty much exhausted. But these events around the party's top leaders or former top leaders may well make it very hard for the SNP to raise funds from supporters in the future.

INSKEEP: OK. Bring us up to date on another UK leader. Sturgeon, you said, is still in the Scottish Parliament, but then there's the broader U.K. Parliament, which no longer includes Boris Johnson. The former prime minister resigned. Why?

MARX: Well, he seems to have made that decision, Steve, ahead of a committee report into misleading statements he made to Parliament about Downing Street lockdown parties, you may remember, during the pandemic.

INSKEEP: Sure.

MARX: That could have sparked a recall election that could have lost him his parliamentary seat, and he seems to have jumped before he was pushed. It seems also to have sparked the resignation of at least two other members of the Conservative Party, meaning there are now three parliamentary seats that need to be contested in local by-elections in the weeks ahead. His successor Rishi Sunak's already seen an erosion to the vast parliamentary majority that Johnson helped win for them at the last general election. And with his party trailing quite a way behind the main Labour opposition, it could mean he loses those newly available seats and the narrative ahead of conservative defeat at the next election is further cemented, Steve.

INSKEEP: Willem Marx, thanks so much.

MARX: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Willem Marx