Scotland: accusations and resignations in chaotic campaign to replace Nicola Sturgeon

The campaign to replace Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland has erupted into chaos, leading to the resignation of two senior SNP figures in just 24 hours.

On Saturday, the powerful SNP chief executive Peter Murrell resigned after it became clear that he provided fake membership numbers to the party’s media chief in response to a reporter’s request, albeit in statement he argued that “there was no intention to mislead”.

Murrell, who ran the party’s backroom operations for more than 20 years, is also married to the prime minister. Nicola Sturgeon, and the way the party’s chief executive has handled the ongoing leadership contest has been criticized in recent weeks. There were also some allegations of bias against one of the candidates, in particular Sturgeon’s reportedly preferred successor.

In addition, there is an active police investigation into allegations that £600,000 (€680,000) of party money was misused on Murrell’s watch.

On Friday head of SNP media Murray Footewho had previously been the paper’s editor, also resigned after he turned over false membership data he was given to a journalist who asked about it.

So why are membership numbers important?

Since voting began earlier this week in the race to replace Sturgeon, the SNP chief executive said he would not disclose how many party members are eligible to vote. All three contenders on the ballot… Keith Forbes, Ash Regan And Humza Yusaf — complained about this, saying that it is normal and reasonable when they say in advance how many voters can have the right to vote.

Back in February, a Sunday Mail journalist said that 30,000 party members had recently left the party, in large part in protest against Scottish politics. gender recognition billwhich passed with overwhelming cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament in late 2022, but is still controversial with some members of the public.

At that time Murray Foote posted on twitter that the journalist’s report was “completely wrong”, “nonsense” and “Scottish nonsense”; while the SNP representative was quoted in another newspaper stating that the Sunday Mail article was “malicious and completely inaccurate”.

Now that the SNP has been forced under pressure from rivals in its own race for leadership to reveal true membership numbers, the Sunday Mail story has proven accurate: it has prompted both Foote’s media boss and Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell to fall to their swords.

Foote said he “acted in good faith” in giving “consistent responses from the parties” to media inquiries about the number of SNP members, but that there were “serious problems” with what he told the journalist.

What was the reaction?

Opposition parties in Scotland, as expected, are experiencing turmoil in the ruling party, especially during the leadership campaign, which drew attention to political divisions within the SNP, and when rivals exchanged sharp barbs during televised debates.

Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarvarreleased a statement on Saturday saying that “while the SNP is in turmoil, we are relentlessly focused on delivering the change Scotland needs.”

“The SNP is in turmoil and distracted by its own priorities. To be honest, Scotland deserves more than that,” wrote Sarwar, an MP from Glasgow.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Rossstated that Murrell’s resignation “is just the latest development in this SNP civil war”.

“But while the nationalists are tearing themselves apart, the real priorities of Scotland continue to be forgotten,” said Highlands MP.

Meanwhile, candidates for the post of the next leader of Scotland had their say. Kate Forbes tweeted that only she can restore confidence in the party leadership; Ash Regan said that “eight years ago it was unacceptable for a party leader’s husband to be CEO”; and while Humza Yusuf has not yet reacted to Marrell’s resignation, on Friday night he wrote “The reform of our headquarters was a key part of my campaign.”