Murrell quits as Forbes ‘hurt by turmoil’ in SNP
SNP chief executive Peter Murrell has resigned as the party implodes around the controversial leadership contest.
Mr Murrell said in a statement that he was accepting responsibility for the misinformation around the membership figures and that staying on was a “distraction”.
In a statement, he 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. I have therefore decided to confirm my intention to step down as chief executive with immediate effect.
“I had not planned to confirm this decision until after the leadership election. However, as my future has become a distraction from the campaign I have concluded that I should stand down now, so the party can focus fully on issues about Scotland’s future.
“The election contest is being run by the National Secretary and I have had no role in it at any point.”
His statement came just minutes after leadership candidate Kate Forbes issued an open letter to party members who have yet to vote urging them to back her demand for sweeping changes in its culture and policies.
Ms Forbes said that many members, like her, will be “hurt and bemused by the extraordinary turmoil in our party over the last days.”
Her comments follow the resignation of the party’s head of communications Murray Foote on Friday night over misinformation about its membership figures.
“If anyone was in any doubt that this needs to be a change election for the SNP, recent events and resignations confirm the core message of my campaign: continuity won’t cut it,” says Ms Forbes in her letter.
“Indeed, since the very beginning, I have built my campaign on the importance of honesty, integrity and reform.
“We need change in party and government, in culture and in policies.
“A prerequisite for effective change is trust. Restoring trust and transparency in the way that the SNP carries out its internal business and restoring the confidence of people in Scotland are two sides of the same coin.
“We need to run both our party and our Government based on core principles – honesty, competence, transparency, hard work, humility and accountability.”
Ms Forbes joined rival Ash Regan is calling for the membership figures to be published after the Sunday Mail revealed they had fallen to just over 70,000 despite the party continuing to say it had 100,000 signed up supporters.
Mr Foote, a former editor of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, said in a tweet that he agreed party responses to enquiries from the media about party membership and that it later became apparent that there were “serious issues” with these responses.
“Consequently, I concluded this created a serious impediment to my role and I resigned my position with the SNP Group at Holyrood,” he said in a tweet.
It also emerged that leadership candidate Ash Regan’s campaign team is speaking to lawyers about whether to obtain an interdict to pause the contest.
The former community safety minister’s camp is concerned at how the race is being conducted and believes the party has given rival candidate Humza Yousaf an advantage.
“We have been speaking with our legal team. We are looking at all options. We are scoping out possibilities, all scenarios are being planned for,” a source told The Herald.
Ms Forbes reminded voters that she was asked to deliver the budget after Derek Mackay resigned as Finance Secretary the night before he was due to deliver the statement.
“I was asked to step up and deliver the budget with only a few hours’ notice,” she said. “I did it, for my party and for the people of this country. That is the mark of who I am. I will not shy away from difficult times. Instead I find the solution and give it my all.
“I have a great deal of respect for the two other candidates, but I am the only candidate who can truly deliver change as First Minister.”
She said she would set up independent auditing of the party’s membership numbers and finances to give confidence and assurance to members.
“The test of this leadership election is whether we can – collectively – face up to challenges with candour and honesty and recognise the imperatives for change.
“A lot of SNP members haven’t voted yet. Many might be thinking it is easier to sit out this election, scunnered by the stories. But I urge you to take part and join the cause for change.
“Together, we can rebuild a party run for its members and a Government run for the people we serve.
“As we enter this last week, vote for change. The last few days make it crystal clear that more of the same won’t cut.
“Members know this needs to be fixed – and they know I can be trusted to do it.”
Ms Regan said Mr Murrell should have stepped aside eight years ago when Ms Sturgeon became First Minister.
“Eight years ago was the point where it was unacceptable to have the husband of the party leader as the CEO,” she said.
“I am encouraged to see the democratic foundations of the party now asserting their rightful function.
“The SNP is more than capable of surviving this, as long as we stick true to our roots, and we uphold the values of our members.”
Humza Yousaf said: “Peter Murrell has been an outstanding servant of the independence movement and the SNP.
“As I have said repeatedly throughout this campaign, he is the most electorally successful Chief Executive of any party in the UK and the SNP has been lucky to have him. Our election wins from 2007 to 2021 owe much to his political abilities.
“I agree with Peter that it is time for him to move on and make way for a new leader to appoint a new Chief Executive as passionate about the SNP and the cause of independence as he has been.
Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: “A fish rots from the head down – and the same applies to the SNP.
“Peter Murrell’s resignation is long overdue – but there remain serious questions for him to answer, not least over the ‘missing’ £600k from party accounts.
“The brutal, shambolic SNP leadership election appears to have been the tipping point that’s forced the First Minister’s husband to quit before he was pushed.
“When two of the three candidates publicly question the integrity of the contest to elect Scotland’s First Minister and the party’s top spin doctor quits because he was fed lies by senior party figures, then the game is up.
“While he may be quitting as chief executive, Peter Murrell must fully cooperate with any probes into the way this leadership election has been run – and with the police inquiry into the SNP’s finances.
“This ongoing SNP civil war is disastrous for the whole of Scotland. How can a party that is unable to govern itself possibly govern the country?
“The public’s real priorities are being ignored as the SNP turns inwards on itself – and that will remain the case whoever emerges from this carnage as First Minister.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “This latest resignation of a top SNP figure goes to show that the wheels have fallen off the SNP wagon.
“When Scotland most needs responsible governance, the SNP has turned inward and begun to tear itself apart.
“If this is what is happening in the party, just imagine the chaos in government.
“Even leadership candidates have cast aspersions on the trustworthiness of the SNP machine.