HUMZA Yousaf has promoted the wife of his minister for independence in a shake-up of SNP headquarters, risking accusations of cronyism and poor governance.

The SNP leader has created a new role of “head of strategic delivery” for Julie Hepburn, who is married to key minister Jamie Hepburn.

Mr Yousaf will this weekend ask his party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) to endorse the change as part of governance reforms which also see the appointment of a new acting chief executive.

Sue Ruddick will take over the role from SNP President Michael Russell, who was forced into stepping up after Peter Murrell quit last month.

Ms Ruddick, the SNP’s chief operating officer, will helm the party’s back office operation pending the recruitment of a full-time CEO.

Ms Hepburn, who currently works as a campaigner for Amnesty International, is a well-known SNP activist.

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She stood for the depute leadership of the SNP in 2018, coming second to Keith Brown.

She endorsed Mr Yousaf in the SNP leadership race.

Her appointment to SNP HQ comes in spite of recent criticism of having a husband and wife team - Mr Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon - in key positions. 

Mr Yousaf last week said that having Ms Sturgeon as leader and Mr Murrell as chief executive was “not the best standard”.

He said: “It’s very, very clear that the governance of the party was not as it should be”.

He then added pointedly: “I can tell you my wife is not going to be applying for the role of chief executive of the party.”

In a statement, the SNP said the NEC would kick-start the appointment process for a new Chief Executive to “drive forward on transparency and governance”.

It said the appointment process would be “open and public facing one with applications sought from the widest possible pool of candidates”. 

The £80,000-a-year post will be advertised externally “to ensure the broadest reach”.

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SNP Business Convener Kirsten Oswald said: “This is an opportunity for the SNP to push forward with a renewed focus and we look forward to engaging with candidates who have the skills and experience to deliver for our members as we focus on strengthening our internal structures."

Ms Hepburn role as head of strategic delivery is "designed to provide additional support on party structures and operations".

The party said the changes would “ensure the continued delivery of HQ functions and provision of support to SNP members, whilst allowing work to commence on reviewing governance and transparency arrangements”.

Mr Murrell resigned last month affter SNP HQ misled the media about declining party membership figures.

He was arrested and questioned by police investigating the SNP’s finances last week, and released without charge.

Officers also searched the Glasgow home he shares with Ms Sturgeon.

Mr Yousaf named Mr Hepburn, the MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, as his minister for independence in his reshuffle on March 29.

The overtly political role is a novelty for the Scottish Government.

Mr Hepburn reports directly to Mr Yousaf and operates as a backroom ‘fixer’, coordinating work on independence across the administration.

Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy said: “At first, Humza Yousaf was the continuity candidate. Now that his party is falling apart, he says he wants a new broom strategy. Yet his actions demonstrate the exact opposite. 

“He appointed Jamie Hepburn as independence minister, pushing the same old agenda that most Scots reject. 

“If that wasn’t enough, while he’s casting around for a new CEO and auditors, Hepburn’s wife Julie has been brought in as ‘Head of Strategic Delivery’ – which presumably means delivering the same old separatist rhetoric, rather than delivering on Scottish voters’ priorities. 

“This supposed new broom is staffing the SNP HQ with the same clique that have presided over the old regime. People want transparency and that can only come with a proper clear out.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “At a time when it is clear that the SNP needs a clean break from the past, it seems that Humza Yousaf is committed to getting Peter Murrell’s backing band back together.

“It seems that the leadership continuity candidate Humza Yousaf has simply appointed a continuity Chief Executive.

“It is little surprise that the SNP is now descending into internal bickering. Scotland needs a clean break from the SNP.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said: "If only the Scottish Government were as good at creating high wage jobs across Scotland as Humza Yousaf has been at creating them for political allies.

“With the SNP's attention focused firmly on goings on in their own headquarters, I am worried that no one is getting on with running the country. With sewage running into our rivers and a record number of Scots on a waiting list, Humza Yousaf needs to focus on the day job."

Asked how much Ms Hepburn would be paid in her new role, and whether there was a governance problem given her husband's job, an SNP spokesperson said: "Julie Hepburn is very much her own woman.

"She has been involved with the SNP since 2000. 

"A well-known and respected activist and strategist across the party, with a central role in the recent Governance Review led by Depute Leader Keith Brown, Julie brings fresh political expertise and a successful track record in the voluntary sector over a number of years."