SNP members should not “lose faith” in the belief that they can work together on the "final steps" to independence, the First Minister has said as he called for unity in the party.

In his first op-ed since winning the SNP leadership election, written for The National, Humza Yousaf accepted that the “past few weeks have not been easy” for his party – referencing the arrest and subsequent release of former CEO Peter Murrell, and polls suggesting Labour are eating away at the SNP’s electoral lead.

However, Yousaf urged supporters to “take heart” in how far they’ve come over the years, with independence now hovering around the 50% as opposed to the 30% figure of his first few years as a member of the party.

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“There is not a party in the land that doesn’t look at our support in the polls or our membership numbers with envy,” he wrote. “The levels of support we enjoy would have scarcely been believable when my father joined the SNP almost 50 years ago.”

He urged members to unite around the goal of independence, as some call for the SNP leadership contest to be re-run in the wake of the Murrell news.

“We achieve that goal of independence with hard work and determination – taking our progressive vision for the future of our nation to the doorsteps, and persuading those who are not yet persuaded of the benefits of being an independent country,” the First Minister said.

The SNP chief, who promoted himself as the “first activist” during the leadership election, went on: “I’ll be there alongside our SNP members and activists every step of the way as we continue to build support for independence.

“To win our independence will require us to be united. Now is not the time for us to lose sight of our shared goal, nor our considerable strengths as a party, and as a movement.”

Elsewhere in the article, Yousaf suggested that the recent turbulence in the party has been overblown by the SNP’s critics.

“Since we came to power in 2007, not a week has gone by where our political opponents haven’t announced the imminent demise of the SNP. In election after election, we have proven them wrong.

“By harnessing the talents of our party - our activists, our councillors and our parliamentarians - we will continue to prove them wrong as we take the decisive steps on our journey to independence and realising Scotland’s full potential.”

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The National: Ian Blackford declares it ‘has to be Humza’ for Scotland’s next first minister

Yousaf's comments come after former SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford (above) made a call for party unity during a BBC interview.

He said the party needs to “make sure that we rise to the challenges that we have” and that members are ready to face their first electoral contest of the General Election next year.

He added: “I’m optimistic but we need to make sure that we show that we’re worthy of the support of the people of Scotland.”