HUMZA Yousaf has distanced himself from the SNP era of his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon as he launched an attack on party governance and transparency under her leadership.

Police Scotland yesterday arrested Peter Murrell, the SNP's former chief executive, and searched the home he shares with his wife Ms Sturgeon, the former SNP leader and First Minister, near Glasgow as part of an investigation into how £600,000, earmarked for an independence campaign, was spent.

Mr Murrell was questioned by detectives while the SNP's headquarters in Edinburgh were searched by uniformed officers and items seized from the offices. He was released on Wednesday evening without charge, pending further investigation.

Speaking to journalists in Bute House on Thursday, the new First Minister, who throughout the SNP leadership contest was endorsed by senior figures in the party who regarded him as the 'continuity candidate', said he said he had not spoken to either Ms Sturgeon or Mr Murrell since the police activities yesterday.

He underlined that he was "very, very clear that the governance of the party was not as it should be" and said the party would not be recruiting his wife - Nadia El-Nakla - an SNP councillor in Dundee - as the party's new chief executive.

READ MORE: Alex Neil: Police probe into SNP a factor in Sturgeon's resignation

He said one of the "first conversations he was keen to have" as the new SNP leader was to understand the party's finances, the financial health of the party and what has been happening "in and around" the police investigation.

He also stressed that he had launched a full review of the SNP's governance and transparency and such responsibilities should not just be undertaken "by one individual". He is proposing an external auditor be brought in to help with an overhaul of the party with his plan to go before the SNP's national executive committee this month.

Asked if he was keeping a closer eye on finances than Ms Sturgeon, after she said she was unaware of a £100,000 loan Mr Murrell had made to the SNP, Mr Yousaf said:

"It's for her to explain of course. She can elaborate on," he said.


"For me given the circumstances, coming in as party leader, given a high profile resignation, given public interest in the [party's finances] of course I will be keeping a close eye on it but, and I suspect your readers will understand, my job is to run the country, and I also want to make sure these issues do not just rely on one individual but we have a structure in place in headquarters that is one that has oversight on good governance. And it does not rely on one person."

The Herald:

Humza Yousaf, with his wife Nadia El-Nakla, daughter Amal, three, and step-daughter Maya (left) arriving at Bute House, Edinburgh, ahead of his first cabinet meeting as the newly elected First Minster of Scotland. Picture date: Wednesday March 29, 2023.

"I am coming in as a new leader and I wanted to at my first NEC meeting [last Saturday] to make sure the NEC agreed to a full review of the party’s governance and transparency with external input.

"I think that's important, because our members and the public and the press rightly have questions they want answered around these issues and frankly a review of governance, a review of how we do things as transparently as possible, is clearly needed," he said.

He said the issue of the former FM being married to the party's former chief executive was "just one example" "that the governance of the party was not as it should be."

"My wife is not going to be applying for the role of chief executive," he said.

READ MORE: Peter Murrell released without charge in SNP finance probe

The First Minister said he had respect for both Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell adding "but clearly there is now an opportunity for a new chief executive which will be an open process. There is an opportunity to do things differently."

“There has to be more openness," he added.

Mr Yousaf admitted that “various” SNP staff members had been spoken to as part of the police probe, but said Mr Murrell was the only one to be questioned under caution.

He said: “The only one, my understanding is, that has been questioned under caution is Peter.

The Herald:

Police officers take away crates of items removed from the SNP HQ in Edinburgh after searching the offices on Wednesday.   Photo PA.

“Let’s remember our justice system works on the premise quite rightly that people are innocent until proven guilty.

“Peter has, of course, been questioned under caution.

"That’s not an insignificant point.

"But of course, as you know as well as I do, he was released without charge.

“There may be developments in that case and I’ll watch the police investigation as much as you will and I will do that closely.”

Asked if he regretted praising Mr Murrell during the leadership race, Mr Yousaf said: “No, because again, I just go back to that point that, you know, when I was asked about Peter Murrell I made the point, I think quite rightly, that he’s a proven election winner, he clearly has been over the years. “

He also said that someone remains innocent until proven guilty.

The First Minister said he did not expect to be questioned by the police but would co operate if asked.

The Herald:

Police officers and tents, pictured on Wednesday, outside the home of former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP's former chief executive Peter Murrell near Glasgow. Photo PA.

During the briefing the First Minister also said Ms Sturgeon would not be losing the SNP whip.

At one point the First Minister appeared to cast doubt whether the SNP would pay any legal fees inccurred by Mr Murrell.

Asked who would pay the legal fees for theparty's former chief executive and whether it would be party members, he said: “I'm looking at the detail of that, of course, we have the party lawyer."

His criticisms come just a week after he heaped considerable praise on Ms Sturgeon's over her time in office and during the leadership contest he also told of his admiration for Mr Murrell.

He told journalists on 7 March that he regarded Mr Murrell as "an election winner" for "many many years".

But he added at the time: "One of the first things I will do if I was elected leader of the SNP is speak to Peter and see what his plans are for the future."

READ MORE: 'Did police tell Nicola Sturgeon Peter Murrell may face arrest?'

Scottish Conservative shadow constitution secretary Donald Cameron MSP, said: “This is an extraordinary admission from the First Minister only weeks after he was happy to be described as a continuity candidate and joked he would have Nicola Sturgeon on speed dial to call up for advice.

“Humza Yousaf cannot distance himself from glowing remarks he made about Peter Murrell just weeks ago.

“These belated calls for transparency and about how the SNP should be run, simply will not wash. Humza Yousaf was one of Nicola Sturgeon’s key ministers for nearly a decade and failed to make any notable interventions on this topic.

“Suddenly he believes things should be done completely differently. The chaos engulfing the SNP is only distracting them from tackling the real issues facing Scotland.

“Their eye is off the ball when it comes to helping people with the cost-of-living crisis, fixing our NHS and strengthening the economy. Only the Scottish Conservatives are focused on Scotland’s real priorities.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “After staying silent for months while people across the political spectrum raised the alarm over the culture in the SNP, Humza Yousaf has finally come clean and admitted that there are significant issues to deal with.

“It’s plain for all to see that Humza Yousaf was happy to turn a blind eye to the debacles in the SNP for as long as he could. You simply cannot trust Humza Yousaf to deal with the culture of cover-up at the heart of the SNP.

“Scotland deserves better than the scandal-struck SNP and it’s out of touch and out of depth leader.”

Mr Yousaf's comments come as the search of Mr Murrell and Ms Sturgeon's Glasgow property entered a second day on Thursday.

Later in the day, police dismantled one of the screens outside the home.

Officers could be seen carrying what looked like tool boxes and rolls of cable from the property.

READ MORE: Nothing's certain in Scottish politics

Several uniformed police officers remained stationed outside the house on Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon cancelled a planned appearance at a climate change event in Edinburgh on Thursday evening, with her spokesperson saying she wanted to "keep the focus of the event on the critical issue of the climate emergency".

The former first minister said through a spokesperson that she would "fully co-operate if required" with police following her husband's arrest.

Claims that the SNP and police were "in cahoots" over the timing of Peter Murrell's arrest were dismissed as a conspiracy theory by the First Minister, as he admitted the situation had been "difficult and bruising" for the party.

Asked if the leadership election, which concluded last week with a win for Mr Yousaf, would have been impacted by Mr Murrell's arrest had it happened while it was taking place, Mr Yousaf said: "To me, that sounds like a bit of a conspiracy theory that somehow we are in cahoots with Police Scotland.

The Herald:

"The timing of an investigation is absolutely for Police Scotland, that's not determined by anybody else."

Mr Yousaf was candid about the impact the arrest of Mr Murrell, and the sometimes testy leadership election which preceded it, would have on support for his party and for Scottish independence, but said this could present an opportunity for the "next generation" of the party to shine.

"There's no doubt the last few weeks and the events of yesterday have been difficult and bruising for the party," he said.

"But there's also an opportunity - with a new leader in place and a new chief executive in place, generally a next generation coming through.

"You've seen that with my cabinet, you've seen, of course, the Westminster leadership in terms of Stephen Flynn and Mhairi Black.

"There's a huge opportunity for us to re-energise, to refresh, and to make sure we are being as bold and as ambitious as we possibly can be for the people of Scotland."

In a statement from her spokeswoman on Wednesday night Ms Sturgeon said she would “fully co-operate” with the police investigation.

The former first minister said she had “no prior knowledge” of the raid on her Glasgow home and had not been invited to attend a police interview.

Ms Sturgeon's spokeswoman was this evening approached for comment following Mr Yousaf's remarks this afternoon about party governance and transparency under her leadership.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Michael Matheson said the Government would not provide a "running commentary" of the investigation into the SNP's finances, but conceded it was a "difficult time" for the party.

Speaking during a visit to an NHS 24 call centre in Glasgow, Mr Matheson told the PA news agency: "There's a live police investigation here and I think the important thing is that we give the police the space that they need - without a running commentary - as part of their investigation.

"I don't intend to be providing a running commentary around that.

"What I've been very clear about, and what the party has been very clear about, is that the party will comply with any requests made by the police for information."

He added: "I think it's important that I acknowledge, and the First Minister acknowledged this yesterday, it's a difficult time for the party at the present moment, given this investigation, but it's important we allow the police to get on with their job and to carry out a very thorough and detailed investigation, and see what the outcome of that is."

On Thursday morning, the Scottish Government's Wellbeing Economy Secretary, Neil Gray, was asked about the arrest and the impact it has had on the SNP.

He told the PA news agency: "I think this has been a very difficult time for party members, for activists, for elected members as well.

"For all of us this is incredibly difficult.

"What we've got to do now is make sure that the elements we do have control over, which is our delivery in Government, around campaigning and talking to members of the public, it continues to happen."

Alex Neil, a former Scottish Government minister who has become a frequent critic of the upper echelons of the SNP since leaving Holyrood in 2021, said it is "hard to believe" that Peter Murrell's arrest was not a factor in Nicola Sturgeon's resignation as first minister.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Well, Nicola did resign very suddenly. Everybody and their granny knew about this investigation.

"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."