Michael Russell has said that the SNP is facing their biggest crisis in 50 years amid a police investigation into party finances. 

The SNP’s president and former Scottish Government minister also said he does not think independence can be achieved “right now”. 

His interview in The Herald comes after the party’s former chief executive Peter Murrell was arrested by police and subsequently released without charge. 

Police then searched Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon’s home for more than a day, with uniformed officers also searching the SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh. 

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It is understood that officers left the home on Thursday afternoon. Russell said recent weeks had been “wearing” for the SNP. 

He told the newspaper: “In my 50-year association with the party this is the biggest and most challenging crisis we’ve ever faced, certainly while we’ve been in government. 

“But I have an obligation to this party and the movement for Scottish independence that’s been such a massive part of my life for so long.”

The party president also confirmed there would be a wide-ranging review of the SNP’s governance and transparency, something which has also been promised by Humza Yousaf.

On Friday, it emerged that the accountancy firm which audits the SNP’s finances has resigned after working with the party for a decade. 

The National:

Accountants Johnston Carmichael informed the party of the decision prior to Murrell’s arrest. 

Russell continued: “I don’t think independence can be secured right now; we need to work towards some coordinated campaigning. 

“But I think this is achievable. My main focus is how we can create a new Yes movement that allows for different visions but conducted in an atmosphere of mutual trust.

“That’s going to be really tough, given where we currently are, but it’s vital that we find a way to do it.

“I heard Jim Naughtie on Radio 4 last week postulating that the next election was a choice between Labour saying, ‘we’ll get rid of the Tories’ and the SNP saying, ‘we’ll give you independence at some stage in the future’. 

“But that’s not the choice. The choice is between Labour saying, ‘we’ll get rid of the Tories for now’ and the SNP saying, ‘we’ll get rid of the Tories forever’. 

“Surely that has to be our core message.”

The party’s treasurer is now seeking another auditor to comply with Electoral Commission rules. 

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Asked if he thinks the independence cause has been damaged by recent events, Russell said: “I don’t know, is the answer. I think people who don’t know what the situation is know that something is wrong and that it needs sorting out.

“But actually, the figures for independence are still holding up quite well. What the independence movement is trying to do is uniquely difficult. 

“I think we’d be best served by a unified Yes movement trying to work that out.”