Yousaf distances himself from Murrell era
Humza Yousaf: ‘difficult 24 hours’
First Minister Humza Yousaf, a Nicola Sturgeon loyalist who labelled himself the “continuity” candidate in the race to succeed her, yesterday distanced himself from a regime now mired in controversy.
Mr Yousaf admitted it had been a “difficult 24 hours” for the party following the arrest of former chief executive Peter Murrell by police investing missing campaign funds.
The husband of former First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon was later released without charge pending further enquiries.
Scotland’s new First Minister told reporters at a briefing at Bute House, his official residence, that governance of the party was not as it should be and the departure of Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell would allow an opportunity to “have a different way of doing things”.
He added: “There has to be more openness, more transparency around how we do things, for our members, for the confidence of the public. We absolutely can do better around governance and transparency. There’s no ifs or buts on that.”
Mr Murrell was arrested at his and Ms Sturgeon’s Glasgow home on Wednesday morning by detectives involved in a long-running Police Scotland investigation into the party’s handling of more than £600,000 in donations that were targeted at independence campaigning.
Police searched the couple’s home and erected a tent on the front garden. They are understood to have removed documents from the SNP’s Edinburgh headquarters in Edinburgh. Police remained outside both premises yesterday.
Ms Sturgeon’s and Mr Murrell’s home was taped off
Alex Neil, who served in both Sturgeon and Alex Salmond’s cabinets but who has become a frequent critic of the upper echelons of the SNP since leaving Holyrood in 2021, said that it is “hard to believe” that Mr Murrell’s arrest was not a factor in Sturgeon’s resignation.
“Well, Nicola did resign very suddenly. Everybody and their granny knew about this investigation,” he told a radio programme.
“There were very strong rumours for the last couple of months that some kind of arrest was possibly imminent, so it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t a factor in Nicola’s consideration. Given that a large number of people had been interviewed, including staff at SNP headquarters, it’s hard to believe Nicola wasn’t aware.”
Mr Yousaf said he had no prior warning of the police raids and that the party was fully cooperating. He dismissed suggestions that the timing of the raid may have been secretly agreed with Ms Sturgeon or the party.
“The timing of any investigation is absolutely for Police Scotland. It’s not determined by anybody else,” he said.Any suggestion that the timing of the police investigation was a factor in him narrowly winning the contest to replace Ms Sturgeon “sounds like a bit of a conspiracy theory that somehow we are in cahoots with Police Scotland”, he said.
However, he admitted that the release of inaccurate information over the party’s membership and the subsequent denial of those figures – which led to Mr Murrell’s departure and the resignation of communications chief Murray Foote – highlighted the issues over internal management.
“There’s no question our members will feel bruised, not just by what was a challenging election contest but by the events of the last 24 hours,” said Mr Yousaf.
He said the appointment of a new chief executive and plans for organisational reform would allow the SNP to make a clean break.
“I want to get back to talking about the priorities of the Scottish people, but there’s no doubt, of course the last 24 hours have been challenging.”
Ms Sturgeon had been booked to appear “in conversation” at the Edinburgh science festival alongside a climate crisis specialist, but it was announced that she had pulled out in order to “keep the focus of the event on the critical issue of the climate emergency”.
She has declined to comment on the police investigation but said it played no part in her decision to step down.
Analysts and polling evidence suggest her successor’s prospects of improving on her electoral success have taken a huge knock from the latest events.
The arrest of Mr Murrell came on the same day that a Survation poll showed the SNP slipping in the polls — three percentage points down from February.