FIRST Minister Humza Yousaf has said he is not surprised that opposition MSPs are calling for Nicola Sturgeon to be suspended from the SNP, because she’s “thrashed them in every election”.

Speaking to journalists in Holyrood on Tuesday, the FM was asked to respond to comments from the Scottish Tories that he was “weak” because he had not suspended Sturgeon from the party.

It comes after Sturgeon was arrested and released without charge on Sunday, as part of the police probe into the SNP finances.

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Sturgeon has insisted she is "innocent beyond doubt" but opposition politicians have been repeatedly attacking Yousaf for his decision not to suspend her, as have some within his own party. 

Asked if he was reconsidering his decision not to suspend Sturgeon, Yousaf said: “No, I’ve shown consistency throughout this process.

“People are released without charge, there’s no reason to suspend them, I’ve made that clear.

“It’s the way I’ve treated other parliamentarians, for example, and that’s the way I’ll continue.

“I know why the opposition want rid of Nicola Sturgeon out here because of course, she's trashed them in every single election.

“So I’m hardly surprised by that.”

Yousaf also said that Sturgeon was the most "impressive politician in Europe".

He admitted that he had not spoken to his predecessor since her arrest as part of Operation Branchform, an investigation into the SNP's finances.

Later, Yousaf told journalists after a group meeting with MSPs that he had not "read them the riot act".

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"I was listening, I was engaging as I hope any good leader would, in a really constructive conversation there," he said.

A round of applause could be heard coming from the room just beside the entrance to the Holyrood chamber where the meeting was held.

It comes after SNP MSP rebels Ash Regan and Michelle Thomson called for Sturgeon to be suspended or voluntarily give up her SNP membership while the probe is ongoing.

MP Angus MacNeil, (pictured below) who has frequently been critical of Sturgeon, also called for her to be suspended.

The National: Angus MacNeil snp.

And former business minister Ivan McKee called for greater clarity on the rules around suspension following Yousaf's decision not to kick Sturgeon out. 

Asked if he was concerned that some of his MSPs were speaking out, the FM said: "Look, again, I'm not going to stop MSPs from saying or MPs or any elected member from saying what they wish to say.

"I hope I've shown as leader a very consistent approach in relation to my own elected members."

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Yousaf added that he would not divulge details of a "private meeting" after he was asked if MSPs were happy with his decision not to suspend Sturgeon.

It later emerged that MSPs had agreed to send the former first minister flowers at the group meeting.

Earlier, SNP depute leader Keith Brown backed Yousaf’s decision to allow Sturgeon to remain in the party, saying this was in the interests of “natural justice”.

The former justice secretary added that other cases, where the party’s elected representatives had been suspended while allegations around them were being investigated, involved “different circumstances”.

The National: Michelle Thomson MSP SNP during the new MSPs' first meet with the Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh after the Scottish Parliamentary Elections, in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Picture date: Wednesday May 12, 2021..

SNP MSP Thomson (pictured above) was among those calling for Sturgeon to resign from the whip while the investigation was ongoing.

Thomson argued that she herself had needed to resign the whip while an MP in 2015, despite not being “personally under investigation” and “certainly not arrested”.

However, Brown claimed that Thomson had taken the decision to remove herself from the SNP group at Westminster.

The Scottish Tories said some of Brown’s claims were “absurd”.

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Deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said: “Keith Brown’s desperate spinning in defence of Humza Yousaf will only pour petrol on the bitter civil war between SNP MSPs and MPs over Nicola Sturgeon’s preferential treatment.

“His claim that Michelle Thomson had voluntarily given up the SNP whip when she was under investigation amounts to gaslighting, as she has said very clearly she had the whip removed from her by Nicola Sturgeon.”

She added: “No amount of spin can disguise the fact that Humza Yousaf is so compromised by his closeness to Nicola Sturgeon that he is having to move the goalposts on internal discipline.”