The SNP must put the chaos of the past few weeks behind it and unite behind Humza Yousaf’s leadership if it wants to avoid a painful result at next year’s general election, the party’s former Westminster leader has warned.
Ian Blackford said the party, which has been rocked by the arrest of Nicola Sturgeon’s husband by police investigating its finances, was in danger of losing seats.
Following calls at the weekend for the SNP’s leadership contest to be re-run given Peter Murrell’s arrest, he said the party should move on and unite behind Mr Yousaf.
Mr Blackford’s comments came 24 hours after SNP president Mike Russell admitted that Scottish independence could not be secured “right now” due to the turmoil in the party.
He told the Herald newspaper that the SNP was facing the “biggest and most challenging crisis” for 50 years.
Mr Murrell, who was until recently the SNP’s chief executive, was arrested at the home he shares with Ms Sturgeon in Glasgow last Wednesday and later released without charge.
The property was extensively searched by police, with officers also removing boxes from the SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh.
Ms Sturgeon has since said that the episode had been “obviously difficult” and that she would “fully co-operate” with the police investigation.
She said Mr Murrell was “not able to say anything” about his arrest and that she intended to “get on with life and my job, as you would expect me to”.
Asked about Mr Russell’s comments, Mr Blackford said the SNP was facing “a very challenging period”, warning that “political parties that aren’t united tend to face electoral challenges”.
He told the BBC: “I think it is really up to us about how we respond to the period that we have come through.
“I would appeal to everyone in the party to come together now the election contest for the leader and the First Minister is over.”
He said he was still “optimistic” that Scotland would achieve independence but that his party had to ensure it was in a place where it could deliver it.
“If we look at support for independence, it’s still hovering around about or close to the 50 per cent level,” he added.
“We need to demonstrate that we are worthy of the trust of the people and it’s about, I would say, the Scottish Government delivering across all the devolved areas and doing the work that we need to do to demonstrate that the best answer for Scotland is to become an independent country.”
Mr Blackford was also asked about the Scottish Government’s impending court challenge to Westminster’s controversial veto of its reforms to gender recognition laws.
Mr Yousaf is expected to announce this week that he will be pressing ahead with a judicial review despite warnings that this is out of step with public opinion and could set back the cause of Scottish independence.
Mr Blackford backed a court challenge, describing the UK Government’s unprecedented use of a Section 35 order as a “democratic outrage”.