Can the SNP catch a break after a bruising week?

Humza Yousaf
First Minister Humza Yousaf faced a bruising week [PA Media]

"Can we not get a break?"

That was how one SNP figure responded when I broke the news to them on Thursday that Peter Murrell, the party's former chief executive, had been re-arrested.

It was just the latest twist in what was already a bruising week for the party.

Earlier the same day Energy Secretary, Mairi McAllan, took to her feet in Holyrood to water down Scotland's climate targets.

It was just last year that Humza Yousaf said it was "unforgivable" for the UK government to row back on their environmental commitments.

Scottish ministers stress their overarching aim to get to net-zero by 2045 remains. And the announcement was combined with a number of new climate-friendly initiatives.

But the criticism came thick and fast. And not just from the usual political opponents.

Friends of the Earth Scotland labelled the changes "the worst environmental decision in the history of the Scottish Parliament."

Oxfam Scotland said it was a "global embarrassment".

This isn't the kind of political criticism the SNP-Green government is used to.

These rebukes - from groups concerned about a lack of climate action - will sting ministers.

It's important to note that this isn't just awkward for the SNP.

Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie
Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie led the Scottish Green Party into the Bute House Agreement with the SNP in 2021 [PA Media]

There's disquiet within the Scottish Green membership. Many of them didn't sign up to that party to see climate targets watered down. The clue is in the party's name, after all.

And things appear to be coming to a head here, with the Greens announcing an extraordinary general meeting to discuss their future in government.

That in itself could lead to problems for the SNP. It's unclear how this will pan out, but their deal with the Greens provides stable government, where winning votes in Holyrood is (usually) guaranteed."

Scottish ministers also point out that opposition parties pushed for, and ultimately backed, these climate targets.

And, of course, other parties are open to criticism on the climate front. Rishi Sunak has scaled back his plans and UK Labour have scrapped their proposals for £28bn a year of climate investment.

But that didn't stop the barbs from opposition benches on Thursday afternoon.

The Sandyford
The Sandyford Clinic in Glasgow has come under scrutiny after the Cass Review was published [PA Media]

And that wasn't the only issue troubling ministers.

The very same day NHS Scotland announced it had paused prescribing puberty blockers to children referred by its specialist gender clinic - the Sandyford in Glasgow.

This represented a clinical decision, but there had been loud calls from opposition MSPs for ministers to make a statement in the wake of the Cass Review in England.

Earlier this month, Dr Hilary Cass said children had been let down by a lack of research and there was "remarkably weak" evidence on medical interventions.

No statement was forthcoming, though the first minister has indicated ministers could address the issue in due course.

It's perhaps not all bad news for Humza Yousaf. You could argue that in other areas the pressure seems to be easing off.

With that, let's turn to the new hate crime laws.

Reports to police dropped by around 75% this week compared to last. It appears the initial turbulence around this legislation may calm down as it beds in.

Though that didn't stop the justice secretary having to concede this week that ministers could have "done more" to inform people about the new law.

Peter Murrell
Peter Murrell was charged in connection with the embezzlement of funds from the SNP [PA Media]

But - to get back to where we started - this week will largely be remembered for one event.

Late on Thursday afternoon, just as the political week was winding down, Police Scotland announced that Peter Murrell had been re-arrested.

MSPs were poring over their phones to catch up with the latest news about the former SNP chief executive (and the husband of Nicola Sturgeon) as they prepared to head home for the week.

About 19:30 the news came that Mr Murrell had been charged in connection with the embezzlement of funds from the SNP.

That represented a huge development in a police investigation that's rumbled on for almost three years.

He's resigned his membership of the party, but this is an individual who led the operational side of the SNP for 22 years.

On top of that, he's married to the woman who probably remains the highest profile figure the party has.

With a general election looming, there's no shortage of SNP insiders who know the timing of all of this is problematic.

Some of the party's problems are out of the current leadership's control. Humza Yousaf has acknowledged that he can't dictate what happens with the police investigation into SNP finances.

So what's next?

On other issues the First Minister does have more influence.

A potential sticky situation looms next week, with MSPs due to vote on some key changes to Scotland's justice system.

Ministers want to pave the way for a pilot of jury-free trials in rape cases. There's some disquiet shared by a number of SNP politicians about these proposals.

Even though the justice secretary has signalled that she's open to making changes, ministers may not have the support of all of their backbenchers when this goes to a vote (on the first part of its parliamentary journey) next week.

A new week, and potentially a new headache for the SNP.