FIRST Minister Humza Yousaf has described ex-SNP chief executive Peter Murrell’s arrest as “gut-wrenching” as he revealed the “frustration” it has caused him in his first few weeks in office.

In a detailed interview with Holyrood magazine, Yousaf laid bare the impact the investigation into the party’s finances has had on him.

He said he “couldn’t believe” the news when it emerged Murrell had been arrested – before later being released without charge – given he and his wife Nicola Sturgeon were friends and had helped him through his political career.

The probe centres around how £600,000 in donations to the party which were meant to be for a future independence referendum have been used.

Yousaf added he had already been frustrated by the debacle over the party’s membership numbers during the leadership contest - where it transpired the SNP had lost 30,000 members despite the press previously being told this was not the case – and he feels the investigation on top of that has “overshadowed” the start to his premiership.

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Asked about the moment Murrell was arrested, Yousaf told Holyrood magazine: “It was really gut wrenching, actually; I make no bones about it.

“I have known Peter and Nicola for many, many years. They are friends of mine. They are people that have helped me throughout my political career. And, frankly, I couldn’t quite believe the news.

“But then I also understood the magnitude of the impact it would have on the politics, but also, frankly, on the party, as well. But my job is to lead, and I’ve got to make sure I steer the party through what are probably some of its choppiest waters.”

In quickly realising the giant ripples it would send through the party and its membership, Yousaf knew he had no time for any sentiment and had to focus on what he could control around transparency and the way he and his team governed.

He added: “I’m only in control of what I’m in control of. And I try my best to remind myself of that. So, I’m not in control of what happens next in terms of the police investigation.

“What I am in control of, though, from a party perspective, is the governance we’ve got in place. What can we do around transparency? What can we do about our financial oversight? How I communicate to the public that this is a party you can trust. And how I communicate to our members that we’re not down and out.

“And then I’ve got to do that while still being the First Minister. And that’s the real challenge.

“But what I found in the last few weeks, and I’ve even heard some of our opponents begrudgingly admit, is that actually the government side of things has gone quite well.

The National: Humza Yousaf tried to set out his Government's route forward at an anti-poverty summit last weekHumza Yousaf tried to set out his Government's route forward at an anti-poverty summit last week (Image: PA)

“We’ve been able to begin the process of refresh and resetting some of the important relationships with business, and the like, but yes, I feel frustration, of course, that it has been overshadowed, totally, by what’s happened in the past. 

“I don’t feel betrayal. Frustration, for sure. Not betrayal. But frustration that issues that started even before the election contest finished with the membership numbers debacle, it just didn’t have to happen and led to a whole disruption within the party.”

“I definitely feel a sense of frustration. Not betrayal, but selfishly, a frustration that this is going on while I also have a big job to do to lead the country.”

Yousaf added he was not expecting anyone to “pull out a small violin” but revealed how he had been working until midnight most nights in an effort to rebuild the party alongside his day-to-day duties.

Elsewhere in the interview, Yousaf was pressed on the SNP’s relationship with the Greens in Government.

He was asked why he felt it was important to keep the Bute House Agreement going given the toxicity around the Gender Recognition Reform Bill and other unpopular policies including the Deposit Return Scheme and Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs).

He said: “For a couple of reasons. One, you have to remember our membership voted for it overwhelmingly [the agreement] and I have made a big pitch about listening, quite rightly, to our membership.

“The second reason for me, having been elected to this place first in 2011, the atmosphere in 2011 compared to now is very different, and I and anybody who observes our politics, would say that the atmosphere here at times is more toxic than I think it’s ever been.

“The Greens will push us hard on a number of issues, and they’ll have to compromise on issues, it involves us having to compromise, and that’s not a bad way at all of doing politics. But for me as First Minister, having that majority in the chamber is worth its weight in gold.”

Yousaf also spoke about his grandparents journey to the UK from Pakistan and how he has felt closer to his paternal grandfather - Muhammad Yousaf - in recent weeks than ever before.

The FM’s father arrived from Pakistan with his family in 1964 seeking a better life post-partition while his mother’s family, who were of South Asian descent, fled from Kenya post-independence as hostilities towards Indians increased.

He told how his mother’s family in Kenya had been attacked a few times – including his maternal grandmother being attacked with an axe.

Yousaf - who met the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif, at the weekend - said he had not been that close to his paternal grandfather when he was alive, but he had thought about him a huge amount since he entered Bute House.

“Bizarrely, I have felt closer to him in the last four or five weeks than I think I ever have in my life when he was alive,” Yousaf said. 

“That sounds like a really strange thing to say but I think all of this, becoming First Minister, has made me reflect so much on the journey he must have made to get here. 

“One of the really lovely things that happened when I got elected First Minister was that virtually every single person in my grandad’s hometown in Pakistan must have tried to call me.

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“I have no idea how they got my number, but I was getting calls from unknown numbers that were plus nine two, that is the Pakistan dialling code, and sometimes I would answer them.

“I wouldn’t answer them all, and the caller would tell me they were from Mian Channu, where my grandfather came from, and they just wanted to say ‘hello’ and they told me they had had a street party in my honour and that the mayor had been there and, apparently, the governor of the city came.

“This is a small town and people were just phoning me constantly and I was having to speak to as many of them as I could. It was amazing, but it’s also just so disconnected to the way my life is now here.”