HUMZA Yousaf has said he remains committed to setting up regional independence assemblies to allow SNP members to help decide the party's route toward independence. 

Speaking in Edinburgh during a visit to see Scotland’s first array of floating solar panels, he said he was "really keen" to see that members voices were heard. 

He said: “I’m really keen to make sure that we do that because I think there’s a lot of value in bringing our members together regionally to discuss independence, to discuss the route forward for independence given that the UK Government are continuing to deny us that Section 30 order.

“Now, clearly, having become leader of the party there are a number of challenges I have to deal with given that we don’t have a permanent chief executive in place.

“And the NEC, hopefully, as well as agreeing a transparency and governance review will also a agree a process, an open process, for the recruitment of a permanent chief executive.”

It came after the First Minister confirmed that while the SNP’s auditors resigned back in October, finding another company to provide that service is one of his “major priorities” as party leader.

“I first knew shortly after becoming the leader of the SNP,” he said. “[I was] brought up to speed in terms of the financial picture, the financial health of the party. Of course, before then, I had no role in the party’s finances.

He added that he believed the party’s auditors, Johnston Carmichael, resigned back in October after a review of its client list.

He said: “They resigned last year, I think it was around October.

“But the fact that we don’t have auditors in place is one of the major priorities.

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“It’s certainly problematic, I won’t deny that at all. That’s why one of the first things I did as leader, on hearing this information, was to instruct the party to get on with finding another auditor. We’re working very hard to do that.”

The party is required to submit fully audited accounts to the Electoral Commission by July 7 or risk facing heavy financial penalties.

However, Yousaf said they would endeavour to meet that deadline despite having no auditors in place at present.

“We’re going to try to work to the premise that we can get them ready by July. It will be a challenging task given what has gone on but we’re trying to work furiously to meet that deadline.

The National: First Minister Humza Yousaf and Energy Secretary Neil Gray alongside CEO Simon Forrest during a visit to tidal energy company Nova Innovation in EdinburghFirst Minister Humza Yousaf and Energy Secretary Neil Gray alongside CEO Simon Forrest during a visit to tidal energy company Nova Innovation in Edinburgh (Image: Lesley Martin)

When asked why he didn’t make it public that the auditors had resigned given the party’s renewed commitment to transparency, he said:

“You can imagine that being leader of the SNP, being First Minister of Scotland, there’s a number of priorities that I’ve got to deal with and first and foremost that’s dealing with the cost of living crisis, trying to deal with health inqualities, dealing with investing in our public services.

“But [it’s also] why the very first NEC meeting that I chaired as leader of the party, literally less than a week into being leader of the SNP, was to get the NEC to agree to a review into governance and into transparency with external input.”

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The First Minister also confirmed that Peter Murrell had not been suspended from the party following his arrest and that he was working on the premise that the former chief executive was “innocent until proven guilty”.

He said: “He has been questioned under caution which is, of course, undoubtedly serious but I tend to work on the premise that someone is innocent until proven guilty.

“I’m not asking Peter Murrell to resign or suspend his membership.”

Yousaf was also questioned on whether the arrest of Peter Murrell robbed the leadership contest of legitimacy and if it should be rerun.

“I don’t think so at all,” he said.

“We had a good six week campaign, we travelled up and down the country, we did many TV debates and many hustings. People got to hear both – sorry, all three candidates in fact – and got to make their decision based on those hustings.

“But I’m very confident that the party will unite. I’ve got no doubt about that. These are challenging times for the party but we’re not going to deliver independence if we simply navel gaze – what we’ve got to do is deliver on the priorities of the people out there and that’s what I’m going to do.”