Gambling Take Over Political Party’s Website Supporting Scotland’s Independence

The Scottish National Party (SNP), the largest political party in Scotland, is in tatters following the arrest of several of its leading executives for allegedly misappropriation of funds. The political party’s reputation is suffering even more damage following the revelation that a website used to collect money for an independence referendum is now promoting gambling activity.

from a website requesting campaign donations for a Scottish independence referendum
What viewers see when visiting a website requesting campaign donations for a Scottish independence referendum. The site is at the center of a controversy over embezzled funds. (Image: Casino.org via ref.scot)

Police in Scotland arrested earlier this month the SNP’s former CEO, Peter Murrell, and treasurer, Colin Beattie following a two-year investigation. They face accusations of taking around £666,953 (US$830,490) from the political party for their own benefit.

The Scottish Sun discovered over the weekend that ref.scot, a website that accepted donations for a second independence referendum campaign, is no longer targeting politics. Instead, it appears to be a gambling affiliate website.

Gambling Of a Different Sort

There was a time when the site definitively sought campaign contributions. It began in 2017, according to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, and snapshots show that it had a template for accepting donations.

The original version of the campaign website.
The original version of the campaign website. It was replaced sometime this past March with the new version. (Image: Casino.org via ref.scot)

That changed, however, this year. Beginning on or about March 11, the gambling page began appearing. That was about three weeks before police arrested Murrell.

The Scottish Sun attributes the site to Murrell, who it said created it in 2017. At the time, his wife, Nicola Sturgeon, was the head of the SNP and the First Minister of Scotland. She announced her resignation this past February after eight years, citing too much stress. That was about two months before her husband’s arrest.

It didn’t take long for the jabs to begin. Several politicians, including Tory MSP Annie Wells, hinted that the website only changed from one form of gambling to another. She said, “There’s a real sense of irony given pro-independence supporters asked Scots to take the biggest gamble possible in 2014 by breaking up a 300-year-old Union.”

Another, a spokesperson for the Labour Party, quipped, “This web page has always been a gamble. The only difference now is the new one has better odds.”

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

The referendum had a goal to raise £1 million (US$1.24 million), part of which would be funded through the website. By 2020, it had raised £593,501 (US$749,027).

Police arrested Murrell and Beattie – but not Murrell’s wife – following a complaint that they had allegedly embezzled at least some of the money. As part of the investigation, the police seized a motorhome registered to the SNP that was at the home of one of Murrell’s relatives. They also allegedly dug up the yard at the home Murrell shared with his wife, although they haven’t revealed what they found.

Police took Murrell into custody on April 5 for questioning; Beattie was arrested 13 days later. After each spent about 12 hours in interrogation, they were released without charges.

Sturgeon, according to Sky News, never faced questioning. However, she and current SNP leader Humza Yousaf have agreed to participate in any interrogation, as well as to open their books to forensic data scientists.

Yousaf, a former health secretary, is the First Minister of Scotland, and some believe that the attack on the SNP may have been a response to his bid to replace Sturgeon in that role at the end of March. His vision was allegedly aligned tightly with that of his predecessor.

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