Humza Yousaf has been urged to break the "umbilical cord" tying him to Nicola Sturgeon by a former senior SNP minister.

Alex Neil said the more the new First Minister distanced himself from his predecessor "the better chance he has of succeeding".

Mr Neil served in both Ms Sturgeon's and Alex Salmond's governments before standing down from the Scottish Parliament ahead of the Holyrood election in 2021.

He called for Mr Yousaf to make a fresh offer to lure his leadership rival Kate Forbes back into the Cabinet in a bid to "reunite" the party.

Mr Yousaf narrowly beat the former finance secretary in the SNP's bitter leadership contest which following Ms Sturgeon's decision in mid February to stand down as SNP leader and First Minister.

READ MORE: What will Humza Yousaf do about his predecessor?

During the race Mr Yousaf was seen as the "continuity" candidate while Ms Forbes advocated a major change of direction for both the party and government highlighting policy and delivery shortcomings of Ms Sturgeon's administration in her campaign.

Ms Sturgeon did not endorse any of the three candidates in the leadership election but her allies, including the then deputy first minister John Swinney, endorsed Mr Yousaf, while one of her closest allies Shona Robsion played a key role in his campaign.

Ms Robison succeeded Mr Swinney as deputy first minister and also holds the position of economy secretary in the Scottish Government.

Just a week into becoming First Minister the SNP was hit by the arrest of Ms Sturgeon's husband, Peter Murrell and a search of the couple's home near Glasgow and the party's headquarters in Edinburgh.

The Herald:

Former SNP health secretary Alex Neil pictured in Holyrood. Photo: Gordon Terris, The Herald.

The former party chief executive was questioned for several hours by detectives before being released without charge, pending further inquiries.

Separately it emerged that the party's auditors had resigned in September and that it was struggling to recruit a new firm of accountants. The party at Westminster could lose out on more than a £1million of public funding, known as Short money, if it is unable to file its accounts to the Commons's authorities by the end of next month.

Mr Neil told The Record there was now a need for Mr Yousaf to unify the party before it faced any further challenges.

"I think what he's got to do is have a complete change of regime," he said. "He has to bring Kate Forbes and some of her allies into the Cabinet to unite the party.

READ MORE: Mr Yousaf goes to Westminster and takes SNP crisis with him

"It would be a lot easier to face challenges if you have a unified Cabinet as well as a unified party. He should also put an immediate stop to the cronyism at headquarters."

Ms Forbes chose to return to the backbenches after turning down the chance to become rural affairs secretary - which was widely viewed as a demotion.

Mr Neil voted for Ms Forbes in the leadership ballot and insisted Mr Yousaf should make her a fresh job offer.

"I think, quite frankly, it's the kind of conversation Humza should be having with Kate. He should certainly be making the approach," he added.


"Things look like they are going to get worse before they get better. So the more unified the party and the government is, the better.

"Kate is also an outstanding talent. She is head and shoulders above anyone in the parliament. To have a government without her in it is a huge lost opportunity.

"I think a lot of people, even some of those who supported Humza, want to see a much more united party."

Asked if he thought Mr Yousaf was too closely tied to Ms Sturgeon, Mr Neil said: "I think he's got to break his umbilical cord to Nicola's regime.

"Because that's yesteryear and it's not ended very well, either in terms of the party or the monumental problems the government faces.

"The more Humza can be seen as his own man, who represents a fresh beginning, the better chance he has of succeeding."

Mr Neil, who had previously told The Herald he would advise caution over legal action against the UK Government over its decision to block the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, also urged a "rethink" of the decision to launch the action.

Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, issued a rare Section 35 order earlier this year which prevented the Holyrood bill from becoming law after it was passed in Holyrood last year despite a rebellion of nine SNP MSPs.

Tory ministers believe it impinges on UK-wide equalities laws and are confident judges on the Supreme Court will agree.

"My own view is, rather than rise to the bait of Alister Jack by challenging Section 35, I think the Scottish Government should set up a task group to rewrite the Bill," Mr Neil said.

"It could listen to the concerns of women regarding safe spaces, while also ensuring we have a more humane system for transgender people to transition."

The SNP were approached for comment.