Claims that the SNP and police were “in cahoots” over the timing of Peter Murrell’s arrest have been dismissed as a conspiracy theory by the First Minister, as he admitted the situation had been “difficult and bruising” for the party.
Police searched the home Mr Murrell – the former chief executive of the party – shared with former first minister Nicola Sturgeon on Wednesday as part of an investigation into how £600,000, earmarked for an independence campaign, was spent.
Mr Murrell was released on Wednesday evening without charge, pending further investigation.
But Scottish Tory constitution spokesman Donald Cameron said Mr Yousaf had not previously raised issues about governance of the party publicly, accusing him of trying to “distance himself” from Peter Murrell.
“These belated calls for transparency and about how the SNP should be run, simply will not wash,” Mr Cameron added.
Asked if the leadership election, which concluded last week with a win for Mr Yousaf, would have been impacted by Mr Murrell’s arrest had it happened while it was taking place, Mr Yousaf said: “To me, that sounds like a bit of a conspiracy theory that somehow we are in cahoots with Police Scotland.
“The timing of an investigation is absolutely for Police Scotland, that’s not determined by anybody else.”
Mr Yousaf was candid about the impact the arrest of Mr Murrell, and the sometimes testy leadership election which preceded it, would have on support for his party and for Scottish independence, but said this could present an opportunity for the “next generation” of the party to shine.
“There’s no doubt the last few weeks and the events of yesterday have been difficult and bruising for the party,” he said.
“But there’s also an opportunity – with a new leader in place and a new chief executive in place, generally a next generation coming through.
“You’ve seen that with my cabinet, you’ve seen, of course, the Westminster leadership in terms of Stephen Flynn and Mhairi Black.
“There’s a huge opportunity for us to re-energise, to refresh, and to make sure we are being as bold and as ambitious as we possibly can be for the people of Scotland.”
Mr Yousaf’s comments come as the search of Mr Murrell and Ms Sturgeon’s Glasgow property entered a second day on Thursday.
Later in the day, police dismantled one of the screens outside the home, as well as removing the tent which had been set up at the beginning of the search.
Officers could be seen carrying what looked like tool boxes and rolls of cable from the property.
Several uniformed police officers remained stationed outside the house on Thursday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon cancelled a planned appearance at a climate change event in Edinburgh on Thursday evening, with her spokesperson saying she wanted to “keep the focus of the event on the critical issue of the climate emergency”.
The former first minister said through a spokesperson that she would “fully co-operate if required” with police following her husband’s arrest.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, speaking on Global Radio’s News Agents podcast, said the image of the tent in the front garden of the party’s former leader and chief executive was “stuck” in his mind.
“I mean it’s hard to get the imagery of that tent out of your mind, isn’t it? It’s kind of stuck in my mind the last 24 hours or so, that’s for sure.
“But again, I don’t know what it is the police are actually doing, or looking for, so it’s hard to put any of that together.”
But Mr Flynn said he still believed Nicola Sturgeon had not resigned because of the investigation, saying the former first minister had built up trust with the public by being “honest”.
Health Secretary Michael Matheson said the Government would not provide a “running commentary” of the investigation into the SNP’s finances, but conceded it was a “difficult time” for the party.
While Alex Neil, a former Scottish Government minister who has become a frequent critic of the upper echelons of the SNP since leaving Holyrood in 2021, said it is “hard to believe” that Peter Murrell’s arrest was not a factor in Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation as first minister.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, Nicola did resign very suddenly. Everybody and their granny knew about this investigation.”