SNP crisis: should Humza Yousaf suspend Nicola Sturgeon?

Scotland’s first minister urged to take ‘decisive action’ after predecessor and political mentor arrested

Nicola Sturgeon stepped down as First Minister in March
Nicola Sturgeon stepped down as first minister in March
(Image credit: Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf is facing mounting pressure to suspend his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon following her arrest yesterday.

The former leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) was questioned for seven hours on Sunday, before being released without charge in connection to a police investigation into the party’s finances.

In tweeted statement following her release, Sturgeon said: “I know beyond doubt that I am in fact innocent of any wrongdoing.”

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‘Sturgeon suspended others for an awful lot less’

Denials of wrongdoing aside, “when she was leader, Sturgeon welcomed the suspension from the party or relinquishing of the whip by other SNP politicians involved in police investigations”, said The Guardian Scotland’s Libby Brooks and Severin Carrell.

Her arrest “is a profoundly serious moment for the SNP” and Yousaf, who “styled himself as the ‘continuity candidate’ and appears unable to escape Sturgeon’s shadow”.

Yousaf faced further embarrassment after describing Sturgeon – his mentor during her term as Scotland’s longest-serving first minister – as “one of the most impressive politicians Europe has seen over the last couple of decades” on Sunday, just hours before her arrest was announced.

He is now “facing renewed pressure to intervene”, said the i news site’s Scotland reporter Chris Green, after having “previously resisted calls to take disciplinary action against Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell and MSP Colin Beattie, who were also arrested by Police Scotland officers”.

Some SNP politicians have joined opposition parties in calling for Sturgeon to stand down or be suspended, including former leadership hopeful, Ash Regan.

Regan told BBC Radio Scotland that “decisive action” was needed and that Yousaf should “consider” his former boss if she did not resign her party membership voluntarily.

Angus MacNeil, one of the SNP’s longest-serving MPs, called for “political distance until the investigation ends either way”.

“This soap opera has gone far enough, Nicola Sturgeon suspended others from the SNP for an awful lot less,” MacNeil tweeted.

‘A smashed reputation for the SNP’

Talking to BBC Scotland today, Yousaf said: “I’ll not suspend Nicola’s membership. I’ll treat her in the same way I’ve treated, for example, Colin Beattie.”

Yousaf said in April that Murrell would not be suspended from the SNP because he was “innocent until proven guilty”.

“Whatever happens”, said Freddie Hayward in The New Statesman, the furore around the former first minister “won’t help the party revive its flagging position in the polls (cue smiles in Labour HQ)”. Nor will it “boost Sturgeon’s chances of swanning around the UN’s Geneva headquarters anytime soon”.

According to The Times, Labour is “increasingly confident that the scandal will cause the nationalists to lose seats in Scotland” and could be “pivotal” in helping Keir Starmer get into No. 10.

Although Sturgeon is currently focusing on constituency work as a backbench MSP, her arrest makes it impossible for either her or the party to move on, said the Daily Mail’s Eddie Barnes.

Her hopes “of a new life – perhaps on the international political circuit — have been dashed for now”, Barnes continued. And “whether or not Sturgeon is charged, this scandal has already smashed the SNP’s reputation”.

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