SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf has said the party’s row over membership numbers is an “own goal”.
Longstanding chief executive Peter Murrell, who is Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, resigned on Saturday as he took responsibility for misleading figures being briefed to the press.
The SNP’s membership figures were revealed on Thursday after all three candidates vying to replace Nicola Sturgeon called for transparency around the exact number – which had fallen by about 30,000 in just over a year.
On Sunday, Mr Yousaf visited the Glasgow Gurdwara where he met members of the city’s Sikh community.
In a brief speech to members of the community in the gurdwara’s prayer hall, he thanked them and spoke about his own Punjabi heritage.
After the partition of India, his grandfather travelled to the Pakistani side of the Punjab, he said.
The Health Secretary said: “Keep me in your prayers – I take prayers wherever I can get them from. This job can sometimes be quite difficult.”
Speaking to journalists afterwards, he was asked about the resignation of Mr Murrell and media chief Murray Foote.
Mr Yousaf said: “The party scored a bit of an own goal here, we should have released those membership numbers earlier on at the beginning of this contest.
“But I want to reassure the members, although the last few days have absolutely been challenging, I wouldn’t suggest otherwise, there’s still a strong foundation to build upon.
“Over 70,000 members makes us the biggest, largest political party in Scotland by some distance.”
Asked if someone in the party should apologise for the turmoil of the previous days, he said Mr Murrell had done the “honourable thing” in resigning.
He added: “I want to pay tribute to Peter for the exceptional service he’s given.”
Mr Yousaf said it would be important to appoint a new chief executive who could bridge the “disconnect” felt between branches and headquarters.
Discussing the party’s finances, he said: “I’ve not delved into this – I don’t know the finances of the party because I don’t hold an office-bearer position.
“But clearly If I’m elected leader of the SNP it’s one of the first things I’d want to get up to speed on.”