FIRST Minister Humza Yousaf’s first opportunity to set out his vision for an independent Scotland was dampened by questions over Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP finance probe.

While the journalists in the room did engage with some of the substance of the latest Building a New Scotland paper, focused on creating a written constitution, Yousaf’s predecessor’s arrest last week and Operation Branchform were also raised across the morning.

Labour’s Keir Starmer, who was holding his own press conference in Edinburgh on the same day, was mentioned a number of times too.

READ MORE: Nuclear weapon ban plan in independent Scotland constitution welcomed

Former SNP first minister Sturgeon was arrested last week, before being released without charge. She gave a short statement to the press on Sunday outside of her home the day before Yousaf’s press conference for the white papers.

During the 10-minute Q&A slot with broadcasters, streamed on the Scottish Government’s social media pages, ITV News journalist Peter Smith asked the First Minister if “protecting Nicola Sturgeon is more of a priority for you than protecting the party and independence?”

“I’ve said what I’ve said about Nicola time and time again, you and others have asked me numerous questions on the issues of how Nicola’s treated, I hope in my 12 weeks as leader I have shown consistency in terms of those involved with the police investigation,” the FM replied.

Elsewhere reporters asked about removing nuclear weapons from Faslane, oil and gas, Labour leader Keir Starmer’s visit, mortgage rates, and Boris Johnson.

We were given hard copies nine minutes before the press conference was due to start. But the speed-reading wasn't really a problem. It was evident that most journalists in the room were there to get an additional line separate from whatever the white paper contained - that is the game we play every week.

There was a marked contrast to Yousaf’s launch compared to the previous pressers fronted by Sturgeon.

First, we weren’t in Bute House in Edinburgh - it’s closed for repairs. Instead we were sat in the Scottish Government offices in Atlantic Quay, Glasgow.

Yousaf was relaxed and open to answering numerous questions from the 18 journalists (13 men, five women) in the room. It marked a change from the usual print huddle scrum, and we even got to sit down.

READ MORE: Scotland could ditch royals for elected head of state within five years of Yes vote

After the FM lamented that the journalists hadn’t tucked into the free pastries on offer, Yousaf answered questions for over 30 minutes. He was flanked by Deputy First Minister Shona Robison and Minister for Independence Jamie Hepburn.

The questions were wide-ranging. The National asked about the timeline for a written constitution after a Yes vote and if abortion rights would be enshrined to protect women. The finance probe and impact on polling for the SNP were repeatedly raised.

“Is it right that you’ve been praising an arrested suspect in a criminal inquiry and the party has sent flowers to Nicola Sturgeon?”, one reporter asked.

“You said you’re not in control of events, but clearly you have the power to suspend Nicola Sturgeon, and you haven’t done that, are you just too close to her to suspend her?”, another male reporter asked, repeating a question thrown at the FM in numerous huddles last week.

The National:

Another said: “You’ve been in charge of the SNP now for what - 12 weeks? That’s given you sufficient time presumably to look at what went on before you were in charge, are you satisfied? Are you satisfied with yourself that there’s no criminality in the previous leadership?”

Shaking his head in response, the FM said: “You’re asking me to comment on a live police investigation about criminality.”

The FM was forced to state on numerous occasions that he would not comment on the live police investigation, despite the reporters around the table giving it their best shot.

After 35 minutes, another reporter asked at the very end of the session if the FM was “alarmed” by reports that some in the SNP have accepted donations in paper envelopes which had not been declared properly.

READ MORE: Police launch new partygate probe as fresh lockdown breaches alleged

To which an exasperated FM said: “Look, again, my understanding from that press report is that these issues are being looked at or have been reported to Police Scotland so I'm not going to comment on a live police investigation.”

There was also a tense moment when Hepburn insisted that he had “not at any stage” advocated for devo-max, following a report in the Daily Record which had stated he did.

While the focus may not have been entirely on the first white paper released on independence, the possibility that an independent Scotland could ditch King Charles as head of state within five years of a Yes vote certainly got tongues wagging, and infuriated Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross.