WRITING just over a week ago, Alex Salmond helpfully observed the onerous nature of the tasks facing Scotland’s new First Minister. Mr Yousaf, he advised, had to unite both a divided party and a fractured national movement while convincing an increasingly sceptical country that the SNP had not entirely forgotten how to run the country wisely and well.

Would that were all that Mr Yousaf has to contend with. The events of this week, unprecedented in British politics, have utterly blind-sided the party, the wider nationalist movement and the country, and have added considerably to his difficulties. As both he and his Health Secretary, Michael Matheson, concede, these are difficult times for the SNP. It is not stretching things too much to say that the organisation is mired in crisis.

Troubling questions have piled upon troubling questions, internal critics have raised their voices, and opposition parties and a hostile press are queuing up for their pound of SNP flesh. Stephen Flynn, SNP leader at Westminster, did not disagree with an assessment that this has been a “bloody awful” week for his party.

It is of course unwise to seek to predict the outcome of any police investigation. The larger issue, however, is the seeming unravelling of a party long accustomed to power and long proud of its competence and integrity. It will surely take a Herculean effort to restore its reputation.

Mr Yousaf has spoken candidly of the need to do more, and better, around the key issues of transparency and accountability, but it speaks volumes that he should even publicly say such a thing. Why were such issues allowed to fester?

Not the least of the questions relates to Mr Yousaf’s victory over Kate Forbes. Is it now tarnished, given that he was Nicola Sturgeon’s anointed successor, and was so close to her, and achieved such a narrow triumph? Does the election need to be re-run? Allies of Ms Forbes, to no-one’s great surprise insist that it does. One ally goes so far as to argue that there has been a material change in circumstances – a sly allusion to the very phrase used by Ms Sturgeon after the Brexit referendum.

Some in the party doubt that Mr Yousaf would have triumphed had Wednesday’s scenes – police-evidence tent and all – emerged during the leadership campaign.

Cynics now query the very reasons that Ms Sturgeon gave for her unexpected design to stand down. Alex Neil, a former SNP cabinet minister, says that “everybody and their granny knew” about the police investigation; that there were “very strong rumours that some kind of arrest was possibly imminent”; and that “it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t a factor in Nicola’s consideration”. Ms Sturgeon, who has otherwise kept quiet, has insisted that she had “no prior knowledge” of the police escalating their investigation.

Mr Yousaf has had little option but to distance himself from the old regime, with his studied remarks about party governance and transparency under Ms Sturgeon’s leadership. He is to prioritise an understanding of the party’s financial health, and wants to see an external auditor being drafted in to help with an overhaul of the party. The decline in SNP membership, aired just a few weeks ago to Mr Murrell’s detriment, also needs to be addressed. All of this, on top of the everyday agenda that Mr Yousaf pledged to devote himself to late last week.

Aside from all of this, Wednesday’s scenes in Uddingston are a humiliation for Ms Sturgeon and her husband. They threaten to overshadow her legacy. She surely ought to have asked Mr Murrell to stand down as chief executive when she became First Minister. To Mr Yousaf this was “just one example ... that the governance of the party was not as it should be.”

There lurks the suspicion that, just as the Conservatives looked worn out after being in power since 2010, so, too, is the SNP after 16 years in office. Mr Yousaf’s fresh start has been overtaken by events, through no fault of his own. The electorate will not quickly forget the sight of that police tent. He needs to move authoritatively to show that he is a capable successor to Ms Sturgeon, full of ideas and energy, and not just continue to go on about independence, when that issue has plainly receded in national importance.


The never-ending Trump Show

WILL we ever get over our fascination with Donald Trump? A global media circus descended on Lower Manhattan last week when the former President appeared in court. All we saw was a glimpse of him entering the premises, and a photograph of him inside. Before long, he was off, insouciantly, to Florida; some TV stations even broadcast live pictures of his plane in the air.

We’ve all suffered Trump fatigue after enduring, over the years, his splenetic outbursts, stream-of-consciousness statements, incendiary tweets, and contempt for the rules and for ordinary niceties. He feeds off our attention and we seem happy to indulge him. We are unable to look away.

Trump remains a hugely influential figure among Republicans. His court appearance has only increased his standing among GOP voters. If he runs for President in 2024, expect him to dominate the news coverage with infuriating ease. A spate of other indictments might yet derail his hope of winning, but don’t count on it. Not for nothing is he known as Teflon Don. He has not gone away, not quite just yet.