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Scotland’s leader won’t suspend Nicola Sturgeon from party after arrest

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LONDON (Reuters) – Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf said on Monday he would not suspend his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon after her arrest as part of a police inquiry into the finances of the governing, pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP).

The police are investigating what happened to more than 600,000 pounds ($750,000) in funding raised by Scottish independence campaigners in 2017 that was supposed to have been ring-fenced, but may have been used for other purposes.

Yousaf has faced growing calls from senior members of his party and rival politicians to suspend Sturgeon, her husband Peter Murrell, the party’s former chief executive, and its former treasurer, who have all been arrested and then released without charge, while the investigation continues.

“I see no reason to suspend their membership,” Yousaf told the BBC. He said Sturgeon’s arrest was “quite painful personally” given their “long-standing friendship”.

After she was released on Sunday, Sturgeon said she had committed no offence and was innocent of wrongdoing.

Sturgeon’s arrest marks a dramatic fall from grace for a politician who served as leader of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government for more than eight years until she announced she was stepping down earlier this year.

Ash Regan, a former SNP leadership candidate, called on Monday for Sturgeon to resign her membership while under investigation as she had become a “distraction”.

Angus MacNeil, one of the SNP’s longest-serving members of the British parliament, said on Sunday Sturgeon should be suspended. “This soap opera has gone far enough,” he said.

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party believes that the scandal will help them gain seats in Scotland, which is likely to be a key battleground at the next United Kingdom-wide election expected to be held next year.

Large gains for Labour in Scotland could be key to the party’s hopes of winning a majority and returning to power in Westminster for the first time since 2010.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Kylie MacLellan; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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