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Operation Branchform refers to a police investigation that was launched in 2021 to probe the finances of the Scottish National Party (SNP), the governing party of Scotland in the United Kingdom, with concerns that the party used £600,000 of donations towards a Scottish independence campaign on other matters.
Throughout the investigation, Peter Murrell, former chief executive of the SNP and husband of the former First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, and SNP treasurer Colin Beattie were arrested in connection of the investigation but later released without charge pending further inquiries.
Operation Branchform, was launched in 2017 in response to the finances of the Scottish National Party (SNP) where £600,000 fundraised for a Scottish independence referendum campaign, allegedly had gone missing and accusations arose that the SNP had spent the money on other matters.
There was speculation that arose preceding and following the arrest that the investigation into party finances was a factor in Nicola Sturgeon's resignation as First Minister two months previously, something which Nicola Sturgeon previously denied.
Following Nicola Sturgeon's resignation, Peter Murrell resigned as chief executive of the SNP after he misled the media on membership figures of the party.
Peter Murrell's Arrest
Peter Murrell was arrested on the morning of April 4th, 2023 as part of the investigation into the SNP's finances.
During this time, police set up in the garden of Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell's residence in Glasgow and the headquarters of the SNP were searched by police.
Later in the evening, Peter Murrell was released without charge pending ongoing investigations.
Johnston Carmichael Auditors Resignation
On April 7th, 2023, it was reported that the SNP's auditors, Johnston Carmichael, had resigned as auditors for the party. BBC Scotland News initially reported that the resignation was in the wake of Peter Murrell's arrest but shortly afterwards, it was revealed that it took place before the arrest. BBC Scotland News' Twitter account later corrected the tweet and deleted the original. (see below)
Following this, Twitter user @msm_monitor criticised the misleading articles and tweets driven from the tweets by BBC Scotland News. (see below)
Colin Beattie's Arrest and Resignation
On April 18th, 2023, Colin Beattie, the SNP's treasurer was arrested in connection with the investigations into the SNP's finances
He was later released without charge pending further investigation later the same day and later resigned from the role the following day.
Following the SNP leadership election which concluded in March, there was growing concern over the lack of transparency when it came to membership numbers in the SNP. It was revealed that membership for the party decreased from 104,000 to 72,000 in the space of three years.
The SNP revealed that their membership numbers as of April 2023, had increased by 2,000 from March to 74,000.
Throughout the transparency row, opposition parties including Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives criticised the SNP for not being open however both received criticism for not releasing membership figures themselves.
Following the resignation of Johnston Carmichael running the audits for the SNP in April 2023, the SNP were reported to have been struggling to find new auditors in time to send their financial report to the Electoral Commission by the end of May.
On May 3rd, 2023, the SNP announced that they had signed up to new auditors ahead of the deadline on May 31st, 2023.
Peter Murrell's Arrest
Following the arrest, media outlets such as BBC News, Sky News, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Telegraph among others, reported on the arrest however the media were restricted on reporting of the arrest due to Scotland's Contempt of Court Act.
Former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, who led the SNP until 2014, had stated that he was sad at the developments and what the SNP has come to.
Following the police set up at Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell's house, many questioned why the presence was large and compared it to a murder scene, citing Fred and Rose West.
On April 8th, 2023, Nicola Sturgeon told journalists, outside her house, to respect her, her family, her neighbour's privacy and respect the investigation following the arrest as journalists were still outside her house after the police already finished searching at her residence. (see below)
Nicola Sturgeon called on the media to respect her and her neighbours' privacy as she addressed reporters outside her house pic.twitter.com/XS4cRsRiIG
— The National (@ScotNational) April 8, 2023
Throughout the Operation Branchform investigation, there have been memes that have been shared on Twitter by Scottish independence and SNP supporters who have taken light at the investigation due to the absurd nature of what was investigated.
During and in the immediate aftermath of the arrest, several memes depicted the tent that was set up in the garden of Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell.
Several Twitter users jokingly exaggerated the situation at the house by bizarre artefacts and treasures were buried underneath the garden.
Throughout the investigation, especially more so in 2023, several household items were confiscated as part of the investigation including teabags, wheelbarrows, pens, fridges, which led to humourous memes being created with cultural references being used in them.
During the raid on Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell's property, the police confiscated a number of household items, one such item were teabags which led to many on Twitter mocking the situation and creating parody quotes from the 1995 film, Braveheart, such as "They may take our lives but they'll never take our teabags"
The other items that were also confiscated such as the pens and fridges led to further such memes and tweets reacting to the absurdity of the objects confiscated.
Following the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon and the arrest of Peter Murrell, opinion polling showed the SNP dropping in support with Scottish Labour making gains from them and also the Scottish Conservatives.
On May 3rd, 2023, Redfield and Wilton Strategies, a polling firm, released findings which showed that Scottish Labour had a +12 approval rating in Scotland and that they were polling higher than the SNP in the regional vote for the next Scottish Parliament election.
On May 4th, 2023, Murray Foote, who was the SNP's communications officer until the conclusion of the leadership election in March, wrote in the Daily Record where he stated that the Operation Branchform investigation could end up being "a wild goose chase" that ends in no criminality being discovered and that he would bet on no such case arising.
Police Scotland Tent
Police Scotland Tent refers to a series of memes depicting humourous responses to the blue and white tent that was erected on the lawn of Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell's house.
Twitter users joked and speculated what was going on in the tent and following Peter Murrell's release from custody, it was joked that it served no purpose and pretended it was on sale after "only being used once"