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SNP’s president admits Scotland’s ruling party in ‘tremendous mess’

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Scotland’s governing Scottish National party is in a “tremendous mess” following the resignation of outgoing first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s husband as its chief executive, its president Michael Russell said on Sunday.

The sudden departure over the weekend of Peter Murrell, who had served as SNP chief executive since 1999, highlighted the divisions and disarray that had engulfed the pro-independence party since Sturgeon last month announced her intention to step down.

“It’s fair to say that there is a tremendous mess and we have to clean it up,” Russell, who replaced Murrell as interim chief executive, told BBC Radio Scotland.

The SNP admitted on Thursday it had 30,000 fewer members than it claimed at the beginning of the bitterly contested campaign to elect a new leader of the party that is seeking to end Scotland’s three-century union with England.


The resignation of Murrell, who married Sturgeon in 2010, came after the departure on Friday of the head of communications for SNP members of the Scottish parliament, who said there had been “serious issues” with statements he had issued “as a courtesy to colleagues at party HQ”.

In a statement announcing his resignation on Saturday, Murrell said: “Responsibility for the SNP’s responses to media queries about our membership number lies with me as chief executive. While there was no intent to mislead, I accept that this has been the outcome.”

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks to reporters outside her home on Saturday © Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Russell said public trust in the SNP had been dented, but he dismissed questions about the integrity of the leadership election raised by the campaigns of Kate Forbes, finance secretary, and former community safety minister Ash Regan.

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Humza Yousaf, the health secretary and bookmakers’ favourite to succeed Sturgeon, has backed the election process but said Murrell was right to quit and “make way for a new leader to appoint a new chief executive”.

Russell said the running of the leadership election was contracted out to “an independent contractor of unimpeachable integrity,” adding: “We need to get this done and then we need to move on.”

Divisions within the SNP and complaints about its handling of the leadership election have wrecked the vaunted discipline that helped the party take control of Scotland’s devolved government in 2007 and win every major election since.

Forbes has backed away from questions about the election process, but said in a letter to members posted on Twitter on Saturday that she had been “hurt and bemused by the extraordinary turmoil in our party”.

After all three candidates joined calls for the SNP to reveal the current size of its membership, the party said on Thursday that 72,186 people were eligible to take part in the leadership vote, which closes on March 27.

The SNP had claimed at the start of the race it still had close to the 104,000 members it reported at the end of 2021 — itself a steep fall from a peak of 125,000 in 2019.

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