Supporters of Scottish independence can still trust the SNP, leader Humza Yousaf claimed – insisting members would continue to ‘dig deep for the party’.
Mr Yousaf was challenged over the ongoing police probe into the party’s finances, which resulted from the use of more than £600,000 raised for a second independence referendum campaign.
The SNP was rocked by the arrests of former Nicola Sturgeon chief executive Peter Murrell and current treasurer Colin Beattie. Both were later released without charge pending further investigations.
Asked if he has the means to stand in the next general election and if pro-independence supporters could trust the party with their money, the SNP leader told BBC Radio 4 Today Program: “You can and should.”
He said: “First and foremost, I have made it clear from the day I came into this position that we will be conducting a governance and transparency review. This is in full swing.”
Mr Yousaf also said his party, which he says has around 75,000 members, “relies on grassroots membership” to raise funds, then adding: “Our membership will undoubtedly take deep action.”
The first minister added that the party would “without a doubt” have the necessary resources for a general election campaign expected next year.
Mr Yousaf also said he did not believe there was any “extraordinary” reason for the release of a search warrant on Ms Sturgeon’s home being delayed and the green light given to the party’s headquarters.
The Scottish sun said on Monday that a request had been made on March 20 to search the home shared by the former First Minister and her husband, former SNP leader Peter Murrell, as well as the party’s Edinburgh headquarters.
It took two weeks for the warrant to be approved and sent to a sheriff, the newspaper reported, and it was executed on April 5 – a week after the end of the top SNP election campaign, which Humza Yousaf won.
It has been suggested that the delay was intended to ensure Mr Yousaf’s campaign for the top post was not harmed, but both he and the Crown Office have denied the claims.
The SNP chief told Today: “I don’t think there will be any particular reason it would take so long.”
Mr Yousaf added: “I suppose that would be a question for the Crown, not the Government, Ministers or the First Minister – we would never dream of interfering, either in an ongoing police investigation, or entirely certainly not in a search warrant.”
A spokesman for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said on Tuesday: “Scottish prosecutors act in all matters independently of political pressure or interference.”
“It is standard practice for any case involving politicians to be handled by prosecutors without the involvement of the Lord Advocate or Solicitor General. COPFS understands the interest in this case, but in order to ensure the fair administration of justice, we advise caution in public comment.”
Meanwhile, Mr Yousaf said the party’s new auditors are “confident” they can submit the Westminster Group’s accounts on time.
If the May 31 deadline is missed, the group could lose £1.2million in short money – public money given to opposition parties to support their parliamentary work.
Mr Yousaf said: “We had a conversation with [the auditors] As a party… and certainly at our last meeting with the examiners they were confident of being able to meet that deadline.”
After Johnston Carmichael left in October, the party struggled for six months to appoint new accountants, a fact Mr Yousaf only revealed when he became party leader and the AMS Accountants Group was shut down earlier this month.