First Minister continues to be hounded by SNP's finance issues

Humza Yousaf faced his second FMQs on Thursday, but the SNP's finance issues could be wounding for his premiership.

Bernard Ponsonby: First Minister Humza Yousaf continues to be hounded by SNP finance issues Getty Images

The opposition sense that the current crisis that has engulfed the SNP over how it spent money raised specifically for independence campaigning, could prove wounding for the new First Minister’s leadership. 

This week SNP treasurer Colin Beattie was arrested and like former chief executive Peter Murrell, was released without charge as police enquiries continue. 

Beattie has resigned as party treasurer and has quit his role on Holyrood’s public audit committee until the current police enquiries conclude. 

The daily drip, drip of headlines continues to hound Humza Yousaf.  

But these are party matters and not government matters so the issue for opposition leaders on Thursday was how to raise an issue which is technically not in order to raise, since FMQs is about accounting for government decisions. 

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, called on the First Minister to make a statement to Parliament. 

Deputy presiding officer Annabelle Ewing reminded the chamber of the Parliament’s standing orders which ensure ministers should answer questions for matters for which they have responsibility. 

Yousaf has apparently taken on the role as party treasurer, but that role is not an area of ministerial responsibility, so the exchanges were limited and all the more so since there is an active police investigation which is still ‘live’. 

The FM stressed that these were serious issues for his party but that the SNP executive had agreed to look at governance issues particularly around transparency. 

SNP MSPs must have thought ‘not this again, another day of this’.  

The limited answer failed to impress the opposition who will hope that new revelations emerge to keep the story going.  

It is not going away but the endgame of the police probe is far from certain. It clearly has the capacity to do further damage to the party of government. 

Yet again, Thursday’s session was suspended because of a protest in the public gallery. This is now a weekly occurrence, and it does mean that the exchanges lack a certain momentum. 

Douglas Ross raised the issue of Sean Hogg, who was given community service for the rape of a 13-year-old girl. He posed the same question the victim in the case had raised – ‘why is it okay for anyone to rape someone and not go to jail?’. 

The First Minster deployed two lines of defence. First, sentencing was for judges and not politicians and secondly even within the guidelines used by the judge in this case, it was perfectly possible to impose a custodial sentence. 

Ross argued that in all cases of rape a custodial sentence should be the norm.  

The issue of sentencing is one that no politician seeks to direct and from time to time the sentencing by judges becomes controversial when they are scrutinised in the public domain.  

Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, used his questions to champion island communities suffering as a result of the chaos caused by the uneven provision of ferry services. 

Sarwar did actually get some traction today. He called for a compensation scheme for businesses that have sustained loss as a result of cancelled services.  

Yousaf pledged to look at the issue. Having committed to that, it’s a fair bet MSPs representing island communities will demand that the government act with hard cash. 

This was the week when Humza Yousaf wanted to reset the priorities of the government, but the issue of the party’s finances continues to overshadow everything. Douglas Ross will not get a ministerial statement on that but knows he doesn’t need one for this issue to haunt. 

Usually, backbench questions particularly from the government’s side are tame in the asking. Not today.  

Step forward Fergus Ewing, who in tones of apoplexy derided the ‘wine bar revolutionaries’ of the Scottish Greens as he railed against the ‘economic masochism’ of shutting down exploration in the North Sea. 

The most animated contribution of the day earned a rebuke from the deputy presiding officer, who just happens to be Ewing’s younger sister.  

He looked sufficiently bashful at the ticking off. The next family lunch should be an interesting affair. 

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code