Humza Yousaf has said Scotland becoming independent within five years still remained a “realistic” goal.

The First Minister made the statement at a briefing of journalists at Bute House on Thursday as police officers continued to search the home of former first minister Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell.

Mr Murrell, the SNP's former chief executive, was arrested early on Wednesday and released from custody that evening without charge, pending further investigation. after former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell was arrested by police. 

Police officers also searched the party's HQ in Edinburgh removing crates of items as part of a long running investigation into the SNP's finances.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf distances himself from Nicola Sturgeon's SNP leadership

A poll released by Redfield-Wilton on Tuesday before the arrest had shown a 6 per cent lead for No if Scotland was to hold another independence referendum.

However, a poll released last Saturday, carried out by Savanta for the Scotsman suggested independence support, has barely changed, dropping just one point when don't knows are excluded  to 48 per cent, with support for staying in the Union at 52 per cent.

Mr Yousaf said it was still “realistic” to suggest Scotland could be independent within five years, but added: “I’m not saying we absolutely will, given that none of us can say with absolute certainty what the timeline looks like, and we’ve seen events can change.

The Herald:

First Minister Humza Yousaf, with deputy First Minister Shona Robison (second right), chairs his first meeting of the Scottish Cabinet, at Bute House in Edinburgh, on Friday March 31, 2023. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/PA Wire.

“We’re starting at the basis where support for independence is around about 50-50, we’re starting at a strong base.”

Mr Yousaf was candid about the impact the arrest of Mr Murrell, and the fractious 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.

READ MORE: Police end search of home of Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon

"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.

"There are challenges, there is no doubt about that, but I am really relishing getting out in front of the people of Scotland and hopefully articulating for them what I can deliver as First Minister as well as delivering as a party and a government."

While the polling appears to suggest support for independence is stable, it has also found a fall in backing for the SNP.


The Savanta survey showed the the party would lose 18 seats to Scottish Labour at the next general election, expected next year, if the vote was held the next day.

Asked at the Bute House briefing if he would resign if his party lost ten MPs at the general election, he said he would be fighting to win the election.

He said: “When I go into elections, I go into win as much as I did going into this contest. I do not go into elections to lose seats."

During the SNP leadership election, Mr Yousaf pledged that he would be "first activist" as well as First Minister if he won the contest. 

He acknowledged a need to build support for independence to achieving a sustained majority for the cause.

With don't knows included, support for Yes and No both increased by one point, to 45 per cent and 47 per cent respectively, with undecideds dropping one to 8 per cent.

The poll interviewed 1,009 Scottish adults aged 18 and over online between Tuesday and Friday last week.