The SNP has warned of defections while Scottish first minister Humza Yousaf is forced to deny the party is on the verge of bankruptcy.
It comes amid concerns that dozens of MSPs will defect to Alex Salmond’s Alba Party as it suffers divisions over gender reforms and a police investigation into its finances.
Alba, the pro-independence party launched ahead of the 2021 Holyrood elections, has so far failed to make an electoral breakthrough and there have been major question marks over its long-term viability.
Colin Beattie, the SNP treasurer, told the National Executive Committee (NEC) that the party was “having difficulty balancing its scores due to membership and donor reductions” and would fight a potential by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West would “put pressure on the party”.
In the Sunday Times report, he added: “We have to find the money to keep the party going or we’ll keep cutting tails until there’s nothing left.”
Humza Yousaf denied that the SNP risks bankruptcy as he confirmed that forensic auditors could be appointed following a meeting of the party’s governing body.
Speaking to reporters shortly after the SNP’s National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, the Prime Minister said the body had agreed to hold a governance and transparency review.
When asked about speculation that the party could be bankrupt, he said it was “solvent” and the bankruptcy had not been discussed at the NEC.
He said, “We’re not close to bankruptcy. That’s something I’ve read in some social media circles but, no, the party is solvent.”
The party says it has welcomed nearly 1,000 new members since police raided the home Nicola Sturgeon shares with her husband, Peter Murrell, the former SNP chief, who has been arrested.
Alba has also sought to pick up on divisions over gender, with Yousaf, who narrowly won the leadership contest, confirming he would go to court to resurrect Ms Sturgeon’s controversial personal identity law after it was blocked by Westminster .
Chris McEleny, a former SNP adviser who is now Alba’s secretary general, said the party was in regular discussions with about eight MSPs and six SNP MPs, some of whom he believes could jump ship by the summer.
Senior SNP sources admitted they had received reports of long-serving members quitting in large numbers, due to fears they had been “taken for mugs” under Ms Sturgeon.
“We’ve had 700 to 800 new members since Humza took over leadership,” McEleny said. “The latest Panelbase poll gave us five per cent, which would be enough to win Holyrood seats across Scotland.
“This was before Peter Murrell’s arrest, so we are confident it will increase further. We are hearing from people who are really disgruntled and feel they can no longer ethically justify staying in the SNP.
“There will be huge numbers of independence supporters looking for a new political home. Our job is to demonstrate that we are a credible option.”
McEleny added: “We talk to a lot of SNP politicians and there is a lot of goodwill there. We are more aligned with them on independence, gender issues, oil and gas and the Greens than we are with the current SNP leadership.
“We’re not actively making any offers, but I think some of these people may stop seeing Alba pretty quickly as just good friends, but a new political home.”
Last week, it emerged that police had impounded a luxury motorhome, owned by the SNP, from the home of Mr Murrell’s elderly mother. He was released by the police without charge pending further investigations.
SNP MP and former NEC member of the party Joanna Cherry told The National newspaper that members who raised concerns about party finances at a meeting in December 2020 were silenced and the mood was “threatening”.
He also said Mr Murrell was “very lucky” not to have been suspended from the party.
Mr Yousaf, who won the SNP leadership after two rounds of voting, was the only one of three candidates to back Ms Sturgeon’s Gender Self-Identification Act, which would allow Scots to change their legal sex by signing a statement.
More members gave their first preference vote to Kate Forbes or Ash Regan, both of whom oppose self-identification, rather than Mr Yousaf.
Ms Regan, who finished third, left Ms Sturgeon’s government to vote against the legislation and warned this week that Mr Yousaf would face a “humiliating defeat” in his judicial review aimed at overturning the British government’s veto.
The Westminster government blocked the law out of concerns it would interfere with equality legislation across the UK and damage the rights and protections of women and girls. Polls suggest the proposals are deeply unpopular with the Scottish public.
Ms Sturgeon’s coalition deal with the Scottish Greens, who see support for gender reform as a red line, is another contentious issue. Mr. Yousaf has continued the pact, which also engages him in controversial fishing ban policies.
Alba this week launched a petition calling on the SNP-run government to end its “gender obsession” and instead “focus on self-determination”.
Alex Bell, the former SNP government policy chief, called Yousaf’s determination to push forward on the gender law “strange”.
He said: “I don’t see evidence that contesting this and making it a big fight is going to win over people who are not currently in favor of independence.
“For a party that is not in great shape, it seems very strange that you are pursuing an issue that is divisive within your party.”
Alba currently has two MPs, Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey, both former SNP MPs who defected when Salmond launched his party.
He failed to win any Holyrood seats in 2021 or a single councillor, out of 111 candidates, in last year’s local elections.
An SNP spokesman said: “We don’t have to look too far back to see the Alba Party’s carbon-copy predictions fail to materialise.
“The SNP is the only mass party in Scotland. Alba has failed to win any election it has ever contested.”