Interim SNP chief executive Michael Russell said today he did not know why supporters had cancelled their party membership, but admitted it had “let people down”.
Mr Russell was installed at the weekend to oversee the last week of the leadership contest which has been mired in a row over misinforming the media over the number of paid-up members.
That led to the resignation of communications chief Murray Foote on Friday night followed on Saturday by Peter Murrell, the chief executive who is also Nicola Sturgeon’s husband.
Mr Russell said yesterday that the party was in a “tremendous mess” and today he admitted: “We have got this wrong. .. we have let people down… by getting ourselves in this position.”
He also admitted he did not know why members had resigned but said the cost of living might be a factor.
Kate Forbes later said the party needed to be more inclusive and that the gender row was a factor in people leaving.
Mr Murrell said in his resignation statement on Saturday that he was accepting responsibility for the misinformation around the membership figures and that staying on was a “distraction”.
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 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.
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.
Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: “A fish rots from the head down – and the same applies to the SNP.
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “When Scotland most needs responsible governance, the SNP has turned inward and begun to tear itself apart.”
The new SNP leader will be announced on 27 March.