Humza Yousaf denies telling MSPs to support Nicola Sturgeon or leave
First Minister Humza Yousaf has denied telling his MSPs to back ex-leader Nicola Sturgeon or leave the SNP.
Press reports suggested that Yousaf, who took charge of his party just three months ago, had told MSPs seeking the party whip removed from Sturgeon, pending the outcome of a police inquiry, that they were damaging the cause of independence.
It was also claimed that he had told those unhappy to support Sturgeon they should quit the party.
But in a press conference today, Yousaf denied this. When questioned on whether he had said colleagues should “stand by Nicola Sturgeon or leave the party”, Yousaf shook his head and said: “No, I didn't.”
He said he has “shown consistency” and would not comment on a live police inquiry.
Yousaf went on: “As leader of the SNP, I take with the utmost seriousness the trust that members have put in me to make sure that the SNP continues to be a party that is winning elections. That is exactly the strategy I have, that is exactly the motivation I have going into any election including, of course, the next general election and in terms of support for independence.”
MSPs Michelle Thomson and Ash Regan and MP Angus MacNeill called for Sturgeon's temporary suspension. The former party leader has denied any wrongdoing.
The FM said recent weeks – which have seen the arrest and release without charge of Sturgeon, her husband and former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell and ex-party treasurer Colin Beattie MSP as part of a police investigation into party finances – have been “some of the most difficult” the organisation has faced “in its modern political history”.
However, he said “despite that, support for independence is rock solid”: “Many polls show support for independence to be above 50 per cent, some showing perhaps just below 50 per cent.”
Unveiling a new Scottish Government paper arguing for a written constitution, he continued: “For me, the case for independence is bigger than any one person or personality, myself absolutely included.
“The case for independence is predicated on a vision of an independent Scotland, where the powers and then the future direction of this country are in the hands of the people in this country.”
Former Labour MP Pamela Nash, the chief executive of Scotland in Union, slated the paper, saying: “Humza Yousaf is beyond delusional if he thinks this is among the priorities for the people of Scotland.
“We don't want his divisive referendum and we don't want a government distracted by constitutional nitpicking.”