Kate Forbes has warned the SNP “will be in trouble” at the next general election if the leadership doesn’t take “decisive action” on its internal affairs as she described claims about the party's finances as "mind-blowing". 

In an interview on the future of Scottish politics, Ms Forbes said the SNP faces a critical moment and that voters are watching the party "extremely carefully".

Ms Forbes, the former finance secretary, who lost the party's leadership race to Humza Yousaf - was speaking in her first broadcast interview since the contest and for the first time since Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell and the SNP treasurer Colin Beattie were arrested by Police Scotland.

Mr Murrell, the SNP's former chief executive, was arrested two weeks ago in connection with a long running investigation into the SNP's finances and released later the same day without charge pending further inquiries.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf: Nicola Sturgeon and I won't discuss SNP police probe

Mr Beattie was arrested in connection with the same probe yesterday morning and last night released without charge pending further investigation.

Ms Forbes was speaking to a BBC Radio 4 programme - Leading Scotland Where? – which airs this evening.

Ms Forbes told the programme: "Right now people are watching with astonishment but they want to see leadership in dealing with it and resolving it."

Claims about the party's finances had been "mind-blowing" she said.

"I think we need decisive action or we will be in trouble,” she added.

She went on to say: “Right now with questions over integrity, trust, transparency - I think voters are watching extremely carefully.

“We perhaps have the next election in the early part of next year.

"They will vote in that election on the basis of how we have sorted out our internal problems - even more than that how we govern.

"There is still time to sort it out. But I said throughout the campaign, I'm afraid I'm going to say it now: Continuity won't cut it".

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf: I don't believe the SNP is operating criminally

Ms Forbes made it clear she thought the party could recover – but only if it took action.

Asked about the way the party had been run by Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell, she said:

“They were obviously a very good team in the sense of managing the SNP.

“But there’s not question that since then there have been lots of questions about transparency, the integrity of the systems and structures and it doesn’t matter how slick the optics are, you need good governance.

“We are at a pretty critical moment – and it will be the response and the reaction that determines how big a problem this is for the SNP”.

Ms Forbes dismissed calls made by some in the SNP for a rerun of the leadership election.

But she suggested she could have won if the campaign had been longer.

READ MORE: Who is Colin Beattie and what has he said about the SNP's finances?

She told the BBC: "One argument I think does have argument that the contest was so short

"I came from a standing start, I hadn't been in front line politics for about seven months, came right into the full glare of media scrutiny and the requirement to build a team and also build a policy platform pretty quick.

"There are some who have argued who I would probably agree with that if the contest had been longer each candidate would have had more time to connect with the electorate. I do think that's one hypothetical that I do sympathise with."

Asked if she thinks she could have won, she replies: "Yeah, there's only 2,000 votes in it. But then again I also have confidence in SNP members know who they are voting for."

READ MORE: Party financing is a fickle and sensitive beast

Despite calls for unity, Ms Forbes left the cabinet in Mr Yousaf's reshuffle.
At the time, the deputy first minister Shona Robison suggested this was for a better work life balance.

During the SNP's leadership contest Ms Forbes criticised the influence of the Scottish Greens on the SNP policies in government.

She attacked the controversial deposit return scale, which would see a levy placed on drinks' containers when bought to be refunded to customers when returned, and a proposed ban on the advertising of alcohol.

The Highland MSP was also opposed to a legal challenge to the UK Government's block on Holyrood's gender legislation, calling for the two sides to reach a compromise.

She was also highly critical of a proposal by the government to introduce new marine protected areas which would see fishing banned off large parts of the Scottish coast.

She said: "The primary reason that I didn’t take the job was because I couldn't [due ] to positions that I'd taken during the campaign.

"Having made much of integrity - I think it was important to be able to hold to those positions.

"I know how important it is within cabinet to work together and support the decisions made"

In the interview for the programme, Ms Forbes was asked if she would run for the leadership in the future.

She said was "highly unlikely” but added: "I never say never because you never know what might happen".

An SNP spokesman said: “Under the fresh leadership of Humza Yousaf, the SNP has put in place the mechanisms to improve transparency and governance within the party. 

"Undoubtedly, the last week has been tough for party members but Humza Yousaf is working hard to maintain the strong  trust Scottish voters have placed in the SNP at election after election in recent years."