HUMZA Yousaf has denied that the arrest of former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell amid a probe into the party’s finances was the “real reason” Nicola Sturgeon resigned as first minister.

The new SNP leader also said asking party lawyers about the police investigation had been one of his first actions after he took power as he was quizzed on his knowledge of the SNP finances.

“Of course as party leader I will know the financial state and health of the party,” he told the PA news agency.

“As I’ve already made it clear, one of the first things I did, as you can imagine, was talking to our party lawyers around about the current live police investigation.

READ MORE: SNP release statement following arrest of Peter Murrell as police pictured at HQ

“Look, I’ve never been an office bearer in the party, I’ve never had any role in the party finances. Therefore there’s an opportunity with new leadership to make sure we are being transparent, we’re being open, that’s what the NEC agreed to in terms of its review, and external input feeding into that I think is important.”

Yousaf was further asked if foreknowledge of her husband’s arrest might have been the “real reason” behind Sturgeon’s shock resignation as first minister in February.

He told the BBC: “No. I believe Nicola Sturgeon absolutely that she had taken the party as further forward as she possibly could. I think anybody who has particularly seen Nicola through the Covid pandemic could really sympathise with just how exhausted she absolutely was.”

The National: Humza Yousaf hopes to rely on the guidance of Nicola Sturgeon if elected as SNP leader (Jane Barlow/PA)

Asked again by PA, Yousaf reiterated: “No, I don’t believe it is. I believe her very much when she says how exhausted she was …

“I think anybody who watched her over the course of the pandemic, doing those daily briefings day after day after day, I think anybody can understand just how exhausting that is. So no. No, I don’t think this is the reason Nicola Sturgeon stood down.”

Police have been seen searching both SNP HQ in Edinburgh and Sturgeon’s house in Uddingston, which she shares with Murrell.

Yousaf conceded that it was a “difficult” day for the SNP, especially given his recent election as party leader.

He said: “I’m not going to criticise the police investigation or the timing of that. The police would have to of course investigate as they see fit. That is appropriate and independent of whether that timing is convenient for me or not for me. What I’ll be focused on is the priorities of the Scottish people.”

Asked if he was worried about the impact of the news on polls, and potentially on a by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West if former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier faces a recall petition, Yousaf said: “It certainly doesn’t do us any good of course.

“People will have questions, there will be some concerns. Our party membership of course will have concerns too. What I can commit to as party leader is that we want to be absolutely transparent.”

But the First Minister defended the legacy of his predecessor, saying Sturgeon’s record stood for itself.

He said: “This is a live police investigation. There’s questions, obviously as we know Peter is being questioned under caution, Nicola’s legacy stands on its own.

“Nicola’s legacy, whether it’s in relation to care-experienced young people and keeping the promise, whether it's reducing and tackling child poverty, there are many legacies she can stand on and I think that’s what she’ll be judged on.”

READ MORE: Contempt of Court: Why the media has to be careful as police probe SNP HQ

Police have warned the media and the public that the arrest means the Contempt of Court Act 1981 has taken effect, impacting on what can be reported or said.

A spokesperson said of Murrell’s arrest: “The man is in custody and is being questioned by Police Scotland detectives. Officers are also carrying out searches at a number of addresses as part of the investigation.

“A report will be sent to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

“The matter is active for the purposes of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and the public are therefore advised to exercise caution if discussing it on social media.

“As the investigation is ongoing we are unable to comment further.”