Scotland’s governing Scottish National Party is in “tremendous disarray” 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 at the weekend of Peter Murrell, who served as SNP chief executive since 1999, highlighted the division and disarray that has gripped the pro-independence party since Sturgeon announced her resignation last month.
“It’s fair to say 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 that it had 30,000 fewer members than it had claimed at the start of a hotly contested campaign to elect a new leader of the party seeking to end Scotland’s three-century union with England.
The resignation of Murrell, who married Sturgeon in 2010, followed the departure on Friday of the head of communications for SNP members of the Scottish Parliament, who said there were “serious issues” with statements he had issued “as a courtesy to colleagues”. at the party headquarters”.
In a statement announcing his resignation on Saturday, Murrell said: “As chief executive I am responsible for the SNP’s responses to media inquiries about our membership numbers. While there was no intent to mislead, I accept that this resulted.
Russell said public trust in the SNP had been broken, but dismissed questions about the integrity of the leadership election raised by the campaigns of Kate Forbes, the finance secretary, and former Community Security minister Ash Regan.
Humza Yousaf, the health secretary and the bookies’ favorite to succeed Sturgeon, has backed the election process but said it was right for Murrell to resign and “make way for a new leader to appoint a new chief executive”.
Russell said the leadership election had been contracted 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 the handling of its leadership election have eroded the unshakable discipline that helped the party take control of the Scottish government in 2007 and win every major election since.
Forbes has sidestepped questions about the election process, but said in a letter to members posted on Twitter on Saturday that it was “saddened and dismayed by the extraordinary upheaval 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 claimed at the start of the race that it still had close to 104,000 members at the end of 2021 – itself a huge drop from a peak of 125,000 in 2019.