THE SNP’s Westminster leader has refused to say if the party’s politicians should back Nicola Sturgeon.

Stephen Flynn avoided the question on Monday morning, saying his colleagues should be focussed on “making the positive case for Scotland's future, to offer that a little bit of hope, that real change that people want to see.” 

Over the weekend, the former first minister made her first public appearance since being arrested in connection with the police probe into the SNP’s finances and funding. 

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: I’m certain that I have done nothing wrong

Speaking outside her Glasgow home, Ms Sturgeon told journalists she had “done nothing wrong “ and intended to be back in the Scottish parliament this week.

The ex-leader was questioned for more than seven hours as part of Operation Branchform, before being released without charge, pending further investigation. 

A poll released yesterday suggested the drama around the row was damaging the party. The Panelbase survey put support for the SNP and Labour on level pegging, with both parties taking 3

4% of the vote. 

That could mean Anas Sarwar taking 25 seats off Humza Yousaf at the next general election

The poll also found Ms Sturgeon has seen her popularity fall by 38 points since February, dropping down to minus 18.

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, Mr Flynn was asked if Ms Sturgeon was becoming a distraction. 

“I'm not sure what you're referring to in that regard,” he replied. “Obviously, there's an ongoing, quite extensively covered police investigation and Nicola is rightly seeking to address that head on. 

“From my perspective, I'm very much focused on the challenges down here at Westminster.

“Later today, we'll be dealing with the report into Boris Johnson. We are fully focused on holding this Tory government to account in relation to the cost of living crisis. And of course, making that clear case for Scottish independence, as Humza Yousuf will be doing later on today.”

The Herald:

Mr Flynn said he was still optimistic despite the polls. 

“There's been a number of polls over recent weeks and recent months, and all of them have shown that the SNP has commanded a fairly comfortable lead over the Labour Party and indeed other parties in Scotland. 

“Now we have this single individual poll… But even that poll shows us neck and neck with the Labour Party. 

“And of course, it shows the independence numbers quite comfortably in the lead. That gives me cause for optimism. 

“I am optimistic that over the course of the next few months and leading up to that general election, we'll be able to convince the people of Scotland, that we are the party who are most focused on returning us to the European Union, who are most focused on dealing with the cost of living crisis, which is undoubtedly their biggest concern at this moment in time. And of course, leading Scotland to that independent future.”

READ MORE: Poll: SNP face defeat by Labour at next general election

Asked why the party was backing Ms Sturgeon to the hilt, Mr Flynn tried to move the conversation on. 

“I appreciate that you're very intent on talking about Nicola Sturgeon, but if I may, when I'm chapping on the doors of people's houses in Aberdeen what they are talking to me about is the cost of living crisis. 

“The fact that under Westminster's watch the economy was crashed and people's interest rates are going through the roof and they can't afford to pay their mortgages. The fact that under a Westminster Government, we've left the European Union and as such food prices and other goods have gone through the roof thanks to inflation. 

“They're focused on the fact that their energy bills have been sky high despite the fact that Scotland is energy rich. That's due to policies from Westminster. I think it's right that the SNP focus on hope for a better future, hope for an independent future.”

Asked if SNP politicians should back Ms Sturgeon, Mr Flynn said: “I think what SNP politicians should do, and I know that Humza is incredibly focused on this as well, is making the positive case for Scotland's future, to offer that a little bit of hope that real change that people want to see. 

“They want to be able to live better lives. They want to be able to afford the basic necessities in life. 

“Now under Westminster's watch, we're not able to do these things at this moment in time, that's where politicians minds should be focused. That's what we should be talking about. We should be talking about the cost of living crisis right now. And I'm more than happy to do that, as indeed all my colleagues at Westminster are.”

Mr Flynn said he agreed with the First Minister that Ms Sturgeon was the most impressive politician in Europe. 

“I think over the course of her tenure, undoubtedly so and I don't think anyone credible would argue otherwise. Indeed, I think many of her opponents would say the very same thing. 

“But look, Humza Yousaf is the Scottish National Party's leader. He's the First Minister of Scotland. 

“Now Scottish National Party MPs in Westminster, we're going to be voting later on today on a quite an important matter, which we should probably talk about which is the fact that UK Prime Minister lied to the Houses of Parliament, he lied, not just to Parliament, but to the public.”

Mr Flynn was also quizzed on claims that former SNP MP Michelle Thomson had been bullied out of the party, and forced to resign the whip when a company she had shares in was being investigated. 

“You'll have to forgive me. I think at that moment in time, I'm not even sure if I was an elected politician. I am an elected politician now. And I'll be in Westminster later on today…”

Asked what the rules should be, he replied: “In terms of my views, at the moment, if someone is charged by the police for wrongdoing, then they shouldn't be in the Scottish National Party. 

“I'm not aware of anyone being charged by the police in relation to any matter who is in the Scottish National Party.”

He was asked why there had been a lack of consistency, and why Ms Thomson had been suspended for being under investigation but Ms Sturgeon was allowed to keep the whip. 

“Well, well, of course, circumstances in the past are not something which I can answer for.”

“I wasn't part of that decision making process,” he added. “So you're asking me to be consistent on something which I had no role within and that's quite difficult to do. 

“What I will be consistent in is my opposition to the Conservative Party under the rule of Boris Johnson, and now under Rishi Sunak. And I'll be arguing to that effect today in the House of Commons.” 

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf refuses to suspend 'most impressive politician in Europe'

Ms Sturgeon returned to the home she shares with husband Peter Murrell on Sunday. 

Speaking to journalists outside, she said: “For now, I intend to go home and catch up with family. I know I am a public figure — I accept what comes with that. But I’m also a human being that is entitled to a bit of privacy.”

When asked if she had considered stepping back from the SNP, Ms Sturgeon said: “I have done nothing wrong and that is the only thing I am going to assert today.”

Meanwhile, Police Scotland has confirmed they are now investigating claims SNP officials were handed financial donations in cash-filled envelopes by a businessman relative of one of the party’s MPs.

According to the Sunday Mail, who received the information from an anonymous whistleblower, the money was also not registered with the Electoral Commission. 

Operation Branchform is looking into whether more than £600,000 of donations for a new independence referendum campaign was spent on other things. As well as Ms Sturgeon, detectives have arrested and questioned Mr Murrell and the party's former treasurer, Colin Beattie. 

Both men were also released without charge, pending further investigation.