Humza Yousaf has admitted the two-year police investigation into the SNP’s finances has cut through with voters and become a problem for the party on the doorstep.

“I’m afraid when I go on the doors people do raise it and it has had an impact,” he said.

The First Minister said he had instituted improved governance procedures as SNP leader, but acknowledged might not stop “human error or worse” creeping in.

Mr Yousaf was speaking to broadcaster Iain Dale’s All Talk show in his second appearance on the Edinburgh Fringe this week.

The 300-seat theatre was around two-thirds full at the Pleasance EICC where the day before his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon had almost packed out a 1200-seat auditorium.

Ms Sturgeon, her husband the former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell and former SNP treasurer Colin Beattie have all been arrested and released without charge as part of Operation Branchform since Mr Yousaf became FM In late March.

Detectives are investigating whether £660,000 raised by the SNP specifically for Indyref2 was misspent.

Mr Yousaf said he had repeatedly been frustrated at the way the issue had dominated the first 130 days of his administration, but he said it was out of his control.

Asked how long he thought the probe would depress his and the SNP’s popularity and what he could do about it, he said: “We’re still the most popular party in the country.

“We have had the most difficult few months of my party’s, certainly modern, history. 

“I can’t remember a more difficult time than the last few months, but yet we still remain ahead because people genuinely do trust us to perform on a variety of issues.

“In terms of how long it will last and how long it will take to have an impact, I don’t know. I genuinely don’t. 

“I hope it comes to a conclusion sooner rather than later because I would be fooling everybody listening and those in the audience if I suggested it hasn’t had an impact.

“I’m afraid when I go on the doors people do raise it and it has had an impact.

“The number one issue is still the cost of living crisis, there’s no two ways about it.

“I’ve been chapping doors in Rutherglen & Hamilton West [for the byelection] for many, many weeks. That is the issue.

“But again I would not be entirely truthful with you if I suggested that it hasn’t come up. Of course it’s come up. So I hope it gets resolved sooner rather than later.”

Asked if had a plan to ensure there is not another financial scandal in the SNP, Mr Yousaf said: “Yes, but there might be a bit of a caveat which I’ll come to in a second.

“The first thing I did actually at the first National Executive Committee meeting I chaired as First Minister was to say we don't know the outcome of the police investigation, but I can tell you governance and financial oversight need to be improved in this party.”

Mr Yousaf said SNP President Mike Russell and former health secretary Jeane Freeman were reviewing the party’s structures, with a report due at the party’s conference in October.

But he added: “You can have all the best procedures in the world in place - and I have to be careful what I say here - but that doesn't necessarily stop human error creeping in, or worse.

“The police investigation will take its own course and we will just have to see what happens.

“I can’t allow myself - not just as party leader, but most importantly as First Minister to be distracted by it.”


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