Nicola Sturgeon 'welcome' on general election campaign trail, says SNP leader John Swinney

John Swinney says Nicola Sturgeon is "welcome" on the general election campaign trail after she said she would support SNP candidates from "time to time" where necessary.

The first minister and SNP leader described his predecessor as an "incredibly dynamic individual" who is an "asset" to the party.

It comes just weeks after a Police Scotland report was sent to the country's prosecution service following Ms Sturgeon's husband Peter Murrell, a former SNP chief executive, being charged with embezzlement in connection with the force's Operation Branchform.

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The probe is linked to the spending of around £600,000 raised by SNP supporters that was earmarked for the campaign for Scottish independence.

Ms Sturgeon has kept a relatively low profile while the investigation has been ongoing. In the early stages of the probe, she was arrested and later released without charge.

Former party treasurer and current MSP Colin Beattie was also arrested and released pending further investigation.

Charges have not been brought against Ms Sturgeon or Mr Beattie as part of Operation Branchform and Police Scotland has said the investigation "remains ongoing".

Ms Sturgeon told journalists she would support candidates where necessary "from time to time" in the run-up to polling day on 4 July.

However, the former first minister declined to say whether she would appear alongside Mr Swinney - who replaced her in the role following the downfall of Humza Yousaf - saying he would have his "own" campaign.

But speaking on the campaign trail in Fife on Wednesday, Mr Swinney - who has admitted the election will be a "challenge" for the SNP due to the "tough time" the party has had in recent months - said Ms Sturgeon had led Scotland "through really difficult times".

Asked by Sky News whether Ms Sturgeon would be an asset or a liability to the campaign, Mr Swinney said: "Of course Nicola Sturgeon's an asset.

"She's an incredibly dynamic individual who led Scotland through really, really difficult times," he said, adding that he has spoken to people who said they admired her leadership.

"Nicola is welcome on the campaign trail," Mr Swinney added.

Mr Swinney was also questioned on a recent poll by Survation for True North, which put the SNP behind Scottish Labour.

If replicated come election day, the SNP could see their Westminster seats plummet to just 16.

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The SNP won 48 seats at the last general election in 2019, but defections and a by-election have reduced its tally of MPs to 43.

Mr Swinney admitted: "We've had a tough time for the last couple of years and that's bearing out in the polls.

"I'm just in the door - I've only been SNP leader for three weeks. I'm trying to build things back up. I've brought my party back together again. We're a united force and I've got a cohesive team working with me."