'Is it only a matter of time before police interview Nicola Sturgeon?'

Bernard Ponsonby looks at what comes next for the former first minister following her husband's arrest.

Bernard Ponsonby asks if it is only a matter of time before Police Scotland interviews Nicola Sturgeon STV News

‘It’s been a difficult day.’

That’s how new First Minister Humza Yousaf described Wednesday’s events which saw the SNP’s former chief executive Peter Murrell arrested before he was released from custody without being charged.

It follows allegations of impropriety into how SNP funds were spent during the time when Murrell was the party’s chief servant.

Now Yousaf could be in the running for an award in the category of ‘understatement of the year’.

He no doubt pondered what could he say beyond seeking the usual blanket protection of keeping a distance during a live police investigation.

The events have political ramifications.

Sure, the opposition are now asking, did Nicola Sturgeon know this was coming and decide to resign before the constabulary came calling?

Police Scotland will now be dogged by the accusation that the arrest of Murrell was delayed until after the SNP Leadership election was concluded.

More worryingly for Yousaf’s internal authority, the former health secretary Alex Neil speculated whether Yousaf would have triumphed in the recent leadership contest had the arrest come either before or during that election.

Sturgeon has sought to play down the significance of the SNP’s ‘cash crisis’ as a reason for her departure. I hear what she says but her sense of being able to sniff trouble and see how it will play will have told her this was a scent with an unpleasant odour.

If the police think there is something worthy of investigation, I do not see how such an investigation can be thorough without interviewing Sturgeon in her role as party leader during the time when financial shenanigans are alleged to have occurred.

Given her role it would be inconceivable that Police Scotland don’t seek to establish what she knew.

The SNP’s National Executive are reviewing the party’s governance arrangements. The two people most associated with a now discredited status quo are Murrell and his wife as party leader.

Of course, Yousaf now has to deal with the fallout from this party issue as well as the strategic void Sturgeon has bequeathed with her decision to quit.

Any notion of a political honeymoon has been strangled at birth with the hands of Murrell doing much of the strangling.

This comes hard on the heels of a potential by-election in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West constituency.

The House of Commons could censure the former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier, in a way that could trigger a recall petition for her egregious breach of Covid rules.

In the current climate it is difficult to see the SNP winning a by-election in a constituency that has yo-yoed between Labour and the SNP.

The presence of 8,000 Tory votes at the last election would suggest Labour would be a shoo-in if they can engineer a tactical squeeze of that vote.

Police probes, a febrile party atmosphere, a possible by-election banana skin, Yousaf does not have his troubles to seek.

His party has haemorrhaged 50,000 members since the highpoint of the post referendum period. Many of the existing 72,000 may be asking, why am I paying into this shambles?

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar was correct on Wednesday; The crisis in the NHS dwarfs the SNP’s internal woes since failure to turn around the current cocktail of problems will have a negative impact on those who are ill.

Sarwar was correct to bring perspective to the noise around the money mess in the SNP but equally he knows it is an issue that could help bury the leadership of Yousaf who could be engulfed by events that batter the credibility of his administration.

The issues facing the party of government would test the mettle of a top- drawer politician. Yousaf is not a top-drawer politician.

How he navigates the next few months could determine if he is around long enough to stamp his own politics on a government which currently craves a period of stability.

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