Humza Yousaf has attacked the way his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon and her husband ran the SNP in the wake of Peter Murrell’s arrest by police.
The Scottish First Minister also said that the events of the past 24 hours would hamper efforts to secure Scottish independence.
Mr Yousaf, who was named as the new SNP leader only nine days before the former party chief executive’s arrest, made the comments to reporters at his official residence of Bute House in Edinburgh.
Asked if Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell had wielded “too much power” as both leader and chief executive, he replied: “Whatever else transpires in this case, it’s very, very clear that the governance of the party was not as it should be – was not the best standard.”
He added that the “debacle” over the SNP’s membership numbers, which prompted Mr Murrell’s resignation last month, was “just one example” of their bad management.
“Clearly, there’s now an opportunity in the new chief executive – the appointment of which will be an open process – to do things differently,” he added.
“I can tell you my wife is not going to be applying for the role of chief executive of the party.”
Mr Yousaf also said Mr Murrell’s arrest and the ongoing police investigation into the SNP’s finances would set back the cause of independence.
He claimed it was still “realistic” to suggest that Scotland could be independent within five years, but added: “I’m not saying we absolutely will, given that none of us can say with absolute certainty what the timeline looks like, and we’ve seen events can change.
“We’re starting at the basis where support for independence is around about 50-50, we’re starting at a strong base.
“I believe we can build upon that, but the only way we’re going to get independence is if we build that consistent majority, and frankly, events like yesterday are a distraction from that.”
The First Minister said he did not personally expect to be questioned by Police Scotland, but that he would “of course” co-operate if any request from the force came through.
He also strongly dismissed claims by former SNP Health Secretary Alex Neil that the leadership election had been rushed through in six weeks to ensure it was not overshadowed by the police investigation.
“To me that sounds like a conspiracy theory, that somehow we were in cahoots with Police Scotland around the timing. The timing of any investigation is absolutely for Police Scotland, it’s not determined by anybody else,” he said.
Responding to his comments, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “After staying silent for months while people across the political spectrum raised the alarm over the culture in the SNP, Humza Yousaf has finally come clean and admitted that there are significant issues to deal with.
“It’s plain for all to see that Humza Yousaf was happy to turn a blind eye to the debacles in the SNP for as long as he could.”