The interim chief executive of the SNP said there is ‘a tremendous mess’ in the party amid staff resignations and a row over membership numbers in the last few days.

SNP president Mike Russell, who has stepped in temporarily to replace Peter Murrell who was forced to quit yesterday, said the party needs to start off in ‘an entirely reset position’ once a new leader is voted in.

Speaking on BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show, Mr Russell said things had gone ‘spectacularly wrong in recent weeks’ for the SNP. 

But despite the mess, he said voting for the party leader must go ahead to ‘rebuild the trust of Scotland’. The leadership contest is due to conclude on March 27.

It came on another day of chaos for the SNP when: 

  • Leadership candidate Ash Regan’s campaign team demanded that the party reissues ballot papers to those who had already voted before Mr Murrell’s resignation; 
  • Fears were raised by Kate Forbes’s team that people who had already voted for Humza Yousaf may regret their decision; 
  • Ms Forbes said the party had failed to ‘understand the priorities of the people’ and to deliver policy pledges.

Speaking on the BBC’s The Sunday Show, interim chief executive Mr Russell said: ‘It’s fair to say there’s a tremendous mess and we have to clear it up – and that’s the task I’m trying to take on in the short term.’

Mr Murrell announced his resignation on Saturday afternoon amid rumours he faced a potential vote of no confidence by the SNP’s national executive committee.

SNP president Mike Russell said today that party needs to start off in 'an entirely reset position' once a new leader is voted in. He is pictured this morning on BBC Scotland's The Sunday Show

SNP president Mike Russell said today that party needs to start off in ‘an entirely reset position’ once a new leader is voted in. He is pictured this morning on BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show

Mr Russell said voting for the party leader must go ahead to 'rebuild the trust of Scotland'. SNP leadership candidates Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes are pictured (left to right) on Friday during the SNP leadership debate in Inverness

Mr Russell said voting for the party leader must go ahead to ‘rebuild the trust of Scotland’. SNP leadership candidates Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes are pictured (left to right) on Friday during the SNP leadership debate in Inverness

He had come under huge pressure following the departure of the SNP’s head of communications on Friday. Murray Foote claimed that he had been misled by party headquarters over membership numbers.

He previously dismissed newspaper reports about the SNP losing tens of thousands of members as ‘drivel’. But when the SNP was finally forced to confirm the figures last week, they showed membership had fallen to 72,186, compared with 103,884 at the end of 2021. The total had slumped by more than 50,000 since 2018, when the SNP’s annual conference was told it had hit 125,000.

In his resignation statement, Mr Murrell said responsibility for addressing media queries about member numbers lay with him, adding: ‘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.’

One member of Ms Sturgeon’s Cabinet told the Mail the handling of the issue had been a ‘s***show’.

Mr Russell yesterday said: ‘This has not been an edifying process. There hasn’t been a contested leadership in the SNP in 19 years and it shows. We’re out of practice in doing this and what has happened has not been good for the party and has not been good for Scotland. And we have to change it.’

He admitted things had gone ‘spectacularly wrong’ and the membership figures were ‘a surprise to me’.

Mr Russell added: ‘We were losing members that we should have known about. We clearly were not told about that, and that’s something that I want to know – why that took place.’

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said the situation was symptomatic of the ‘secrecy and lack of accountability’ at the top of the SNP.

He added: ‘Mike Russell must be the most slapdash, disinterested and hands-off party president ever. He’s asking us to believe that he had no idea what the SNP membership figures were until they were published a few days ago, nor who was responsible for ordering the party’s former chief spin doctor to rubbish a perfectly accurate newspaper report on that figure. Their squalid leadership race has exposed a civil war within the SNP.

‘It’s a measure of just how bad things have become when a senior party loyalist like Mike Russell describes it as “a tremendous mess” and admits that things have gone “spectacularly wrong”.

‘The tragedy is that this affects the whole of Scotland, rather than merely the SNP.

‘While they are hopelessly divided and fighting like Nats in a sack, they’re incapable of focusing on the real priorities of Scots.’

Ms Baillie said Finance Secretary Ms Forbes’s campaign had thrown light on the SNP’s ‘atrocious record’ in government and questioned the cabal that had ran the party for years.

She added: ‘The truth is that this leadership election is in chaos – with allegations and resignations appearing on a daily basis.

‘If this is how the SNP run their own party, just imagine the chaos in government. Scotland deserves better.’

Writing in the Sunday Post, former Nationalist MSP Joan McAlpine said the party had benefited from ‘the precious gift of trust’ during its time in power.

But she added: ‘That has been destroyed by the small cabal around Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell, the SNP’s now ex-chief executive.’

Mr Yousaf yesterday admitted that the row over membership numbers was an ‘own goal’ for the SNP.

He told the BBC: ‘There needs to be internal reform… I’ll be looking to see what I can do to shake up the operation at [party] headquarters from day one.’

Mr Russell said the next important step for the party is to have ‘a fair electoral process that produces a clear accepted outcome.

‘We have got to have this concluded in the next eight days and then – the new leader has to look at the party and say let’s rebuild this and let’s rebuild the trust of Scotland.

‘This has not been an edifying process. There hasn’t been a contested leadership in the SNP for 19 years, and it shows.’

He said a new leader in place will provide ‘a tremendous opportunity to get things right and to start off with an entirely reset position.’

Mr Russell's remarks come after Peter Murrell, who is Nicola Sturgeon's husband, quit with immediate effect yesterday following a row over the party's membership numbers. Ms Sturgeon (left) and Mr Murrell (right) are pictured together last year

Mr Russell’s remarks come after Peter Murrell, who is Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, quit with immediate effect yesterday following a row over the party’s membership numbers. Ms Sturgeon (left) and Mr Murrell (right) are pictured together last year

Ms Sturgeon resigned as First Minister last month after eight years in the role, following a series of political setbacks. She is pictured at her home yesterday following the resignation of her husband Peter Murrell as SNP chief executive

Ms Sturgeon resigned as First Minister last month after eight years in the role, following a series of political setbacks. She is pictured at her home yesterday following the resignation of her husband Peter Murrell as SNP chief executive

SNP facing demands to rerun poll after Sturgeon’s husband quits 

The SNP is facing demands to rerun its leadership contest after the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon’s husband as the party’s chief executive.

Peter Murrell admitted that he had misled party members and the Scottish public on the size of the electorate.

There have been claims since that bogus numbers were being used to inflate support for Humza Yousaf – seen as the continuity candidate after Ms Sturgeon’s shock resignation.

Now sources close to one of his rivals, Ash Regan, have demanded the contest is restarted and existing ballot papers discarded.

‘The ballot needs to be rerun,’ a source close to Ms Regan told The Telegraph.

‘If members knew what they know now would they have voted the same way? 

‘My suspicion is that for many, the answer is no. They are entitled to reconsider now that they have more information.

‘If there is not a rerun and Humza wins, his position would become untenable very quickly,’ they added.

‘I doubt he would even make it to being confirmed as First Minister.’

His remarks come after Mr Murrell, who is Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, quit with immediate effect yesterday following a row over the party’s membership numbers.

Mr Murrell resigned just weeks after Ms Sturgeon announced her shock resignation as First Minister.

The downfall of Scotland’s foremost political power couple followed revelations in The Mail on Sunday that the SNP had lied about its true membership numbers ahead of the leadership race.

Critics feared the bogus numbers were being used by the SNP ‘party machine’ to inflate support for Humza Yousaf, seen as the establishment’s preferred candidate to take over as First Minister.

Yesterday, in a statement announcing his immediate resignation, Mr Murrell admitted he was responsible for the ‘misleading’ claims about membership figures – which the party had repeatedly said stood at around 100,000, but were actually around 72,000.

Rumours had swirled yesterday that the party’s ruling body, the national executive committee, was set to launch a vote of no confidence in Mr Murrell.

However, Mr Murrell conceded his 24 years in office had come to an end and, rather than face a cripplingly embarrassing vote, decided to leave the party rudderless. 

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.’

He added: ‘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.

‘I am very proud of what has been achieved in my time as chief executive and of the part I have played in securing the electoral success the party has enjoyed over almost two decades.’

Mr Murrell’s departure came shortly after that of media chief Murray Foote, who said there had been a ‘serious impediment’ to his role.

The party this week confirmed there had been a big drop in membership numbers.

And last week, two of the SNP leader candidates to succeed Ms Sturgeon as first minister: Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, questioned the independence of the election process.

Today leadership candidate Ms Forbes said decisions in the SNP are being taken by too few people. She told the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg: 'I think at the heart of this is the fact that the decisions within the SNP have been taken by too few people'

Today leadership candidate Ms Forbes said decisions in the SNP are being taken by too few people. She told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg: ‘I think at the heart of this is the fact that the decisions within the SNP have been taken by too few people’

Murrell’s resignation speech 

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.

I am very proud of what has been achieved in my time as chief executive and of the part I have played in securing the electoral success the party has enjoyed over almost two decades. Fourteen national election wins is testament to the skills of the dedicated and talented HQ team that I have been privileged to lead.

They give their all to the party and the independence cause and I thank them for it.

I have worked for independence all my life and will continue to do so, albeit in a different capacity, until it is achieved – and I do firmly believe that independence is now closer than ever.

Today, leadership candidate Ms Forbes said decisions in the SNP are being taken by too few people.

Ms Forbes, who is on maternity leave from her Government role as Finance Secretary, is facing Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and former community safety minister Ash Regan in the contest.

She told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg: ‘I think at the heart of this is the fact that the decisions within the SNP have been taken by too few people.

‘I think that’s well recognised across the political domain.

‘SNP members want to know that our institution is democratic, that they can influence it, that they can shape policy.’

Ms Forbes also said the SNP needs to improve its ability to listen and deliver.

She highlighted the failure to turn the A9 road into a full dual-carriageway, as the party has long-promised.

Referring to the trunk road as Scotland’s ‘backbone’, she said: ‘We said we would dual that, we haven’t done it. We need to be able to deliver.’

She also said she would rule out further tax rises if she becomes first minister.

Ms Forbes, a member of the evangelical Free Church of Scotland, said there has been ‘quite a stunning level of scrutiny and perhaps backlash from some quarters’ around her religious views.

She said other people of faith have held high office in the UK – citing Rishi Sunak, a Hindu, and the Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan – and she vowed to ensure Scotland is a ‘tolerant and pluralistic nation’.

After a series of televised leadership debates in the week in which she struggled to clarify her position on conversion therapy she branded it ‘abhorrent’ today, adding: ‘It is a very, very sensitive issue and I do think that rather than give you quick, sort of ”gotcha” answers on a matter of such importance, that we do reflect on consultation responses.’ 

In another interview with Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday show, which was recorded before Mr Murrell’s resignation, she said she had confidence in the integrity of the election process.

‘I have no concerns about the process, I have full confidence in the integrity of the election,’ she told the programme, adding: ‘I’m certainly confident that whoever is elected is the person who SNP members will have chosen.’

She also said she would rule out further tax rises if she becomes First Minister.

In response to Ms Forbes’ interviews today, Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: ‘Kate Forbes is at it again – claiming she is the ‘change candidate’ to put right the failings of the SNP Government, despite having been one of the most senior members of it.

‘She had some brass neck publicly lamenting the SNP’s failure to dual the A9, as if she was a helpless bystander.

‘As a Highlands MSP, she ought to have been banging the drum for this since 2016; while, as finance secretary for the last three years, she’s been in charge of the purse strings and could have made this happen if it was that important to her.

Mr Humza is narrowly the favourite to replace Ms Sturgeon as SNP leader and First Minister at the end of the month on an independence platform. Pictured: Humza Yousaf is gifted koravai from Sonia Urquhart during a visit to the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain on Thursday

Mr Humza is narrowly the favourite to replace Ms Sturgeon as SNP leader and First Minister at the end of the month on an independence platform. Pictured: Humza Yousaf is gifted koravai from Sonia Urquhart during a visit to the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain on Thursday

Last week, two of the SNP leader candidates to succeed Ms Sturgeon as first minister: Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, (pictured on Friday) questioned the independence of the election process

Last week, two of the SNP leader candidates to succeed Ms Sturgeon as first minister: Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, (pictured on Friday) questioned the independence of the election process

‘Similarly, she talks of the need to keep taxes down, while blithely ignoring the fact that she’s made Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK.’

Mr Hoy went on to describe Mr Russell as ‘the most slapdash, disinterested and hands-off party president ever’.

He said the ‘squalid leadership race has exposed a civil war within the SNP’.

‘It’s a measure of just how bad things have become when a senior party loyalist like Mike Russell describes it as a tremendous mess and admits things have gone spectacularly wrong,’ Mr Hoy continued.



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