Humza Yousaf has insisted SNP followers can trust the latest release of membership numbers by the governing party.
The First Minister said data showing an “uptick” in members since March was “positive” despite a “difficult” few weeks early in his tenure in Holyrood’s top job.
It comes after Keith Brown told a radio station an additional 700 members had joined the ranks as of April 21, taking the overall number to more than 74,800.
The party initially denied newspaper reports suggesting it had lost 30,000 members – despite the leadership vote later confirming those figures were true.
Yousaf – who met with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for the first time on Monday – conceded that decision was an “own goal” but said the data released to the media was correct.
“That shouldn’t have happened, it was an own goal,” he said following the meeting in London.
“The figures I’ve seen for myself are the ones put out in the press.
“I’m pleased we have seen an uptick in membership despite a difficult few weeks.”
The FM added he and previous incumbent Nicola Sturgeon remained “friends,” though conceded the pair had not spoken in the wake of the arrest and subsequent release of husband and former party chief executive Peter Murrell amid a probe into the party’s finances.
Police are now said to be carrying out a probe into “burner sim cards” used by top party officials.
Yousaf said he would be “surprised” if the devices were used to “preserve anonymity,” adding the party was not “operating in a criminal way”.
“When you run a campaign instead of using your personal phone, people might well buy a new SIM card and new telephone number, make that the campaign phone number.
“So it depends on your definition of what you mean by a burner phone.
“I was asked the question and I said, of course the SNP is not operating in a criminal way. I don’t believe the SNP is operating in a criminal way.
“There’s a live police investigation, so there’s only so much I can say around that investigation of what has happened over the last few weeks.”
Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said he had only been made aware the party’s auditors had quit in February – months after the firm had split from the party in September.
However Yousaf said he was “aware” of Flynn’s timeline and had spoken to his colleague about the issue.
Yousaf has said the Prime Minister “now needs to deliver” on his commitment to fairness in how the Scotch whisky industry is treated by the UK Government.
Yousaf and Sunak discussed the whisky industry when they met in person for the first time on Monday, ahead of a tax hike on the drink later this year.
An alcohol duty freeze is set to end on August 1 when the amount Scotch buyers will have to pay the treasury will go up by 10.1% in line with inflation.
Ahead of the meeting, Yousaf had said the duty hike and the UK Government “refusing to provide the energy-bill support the rest of the drinks industry receives” put the industry, and Scotland, at a “competitive disadvantage”.
He also blamed the UK government’s intervention as an “existential” cause of the delay to the deposit return scheme.