Scotland: Accusations and resignations in a chaotic campaign to replace Nicola Sturgeon
The campaign to replace Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the Scottish National Party – and as Scottish First Minister – has been engulfed in chaos that led to the resignation of two senior SNP officials in just 24 hours.
On Saturday, the powerful director general of the SNP Peter Murrell resigned after it became apparent that he had provided fake membership numbers to the party’s media boss in response to a reporter’s request, albeit in a statement he claimed “there was no intent to mislead”.
Murrell, who has been in charge of the party’s behind-the-scenes operations for more than 20 years, is also married to the prime minister Nicholas Sturgeon, and the party executive’s handling of the ongoing leadership race has come under fire in recent weeks. There have also been allegations of bias towards one of the candidates in particular – who is believed to be Sturgeon’s preferred successor.
In addition, there is an active police investigation into allegations that £600,000 (€680,000) of party money was embezzled under Murrell’s watch.
On Friday, the SNP media chief Murray Footwho previously served as a newspaper editor, also resigned after giving the false membership figures given to him to the reporter who interviewed them.
So why is the number of members important?
As voting began earlier this week in the race to replace Sturgeon, the SNP executive said it would not reveal how many party members were eligible to vote. The three candidates on the ballot — Kate Forbes, Ash Regan And Humza Yousaf — complained about this, saying it was normal and reasonable to be informed in advance of the number of eligible voters.
Last February, a reporter for the Sunday Mail newspaper claimed that 30,000 party members had recently quit, largely in protest against the gender recognition billwhich was passed with overwhelming all-party support in the Scottish Parliament at the end of 2022, but is still seen as controversial by some members of the public.
At the time, Murray Foote had wrote on Twitter that the reporter’s reporting was “completely false”, “doting” and “tartan bullshit”; while an SNP spokesperson was quoted in another newspaper saying the Sunday Mail story was ‘malicious and totally inaccurate’.
Now, with the SNP forced by pressure from contenders in its own leadership race to reveal true membership numbers, the Sunday Mail story has proven accurate: prompting media boss Foote and Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, to fall on their swords.
Foote said he had ‘acted in good faith’ in issuing ‘party-agreed responses’ to media inquiries about SNP membership numbers, but there were ‘serious problems’ with it. what he had told the reporter.
What was the reaction?
Unsurprisingly, opposition parties in Scotland are having a blast with the turmoil within the ruling party, especially in a leadership campaign that has highlighted the divisions politics within the SNP, and when the candidates exchanged sharp barbs during televised debates.
The Scottish Labor Leader, Anas Sarvarissued a statement on Saturday saying that “while the SNP is in turmoil, we are relentlessly focused on delivering the change Scotland needs”.
“The SNP are upset and distracted by their own priorities. Frankly Scotland deserves better than this,” wrote Sarwar, who is an MSP from Glasgow.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Rosssaid Murrell’s resignation “is just the latest development in this SNP civil war”.
“But as nationalists tear apart, Scotland’s real priorities continue to be forgotten,” said the Highlands MP.
Meanwhile, the candidates for Scotland’s next leader have had their say. Kate Forbes tweeted that it alone can restore confidence in the governance of the party; Ash Regan said that “eight years ago was the time when it was unacceptable to have the party leader’s husband as CEO”; and while Humza Yousaf had yet to respond to Murrell’s resignation, Friday night he writing “Reforming our HQ operations has been a key part of my campaign.”