The husband of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has resigned as chief executive of her governing Scottish National Party after it was forced to admit it had 30,000 fewer members than it claimed.
The sudden departure of Peter Murrell, who had served as CEO since 1999 and married Sturgeon in 2010, came as a heavy blow to the SNP establishment. It also highlights the division and disarray that has engulfed the pro-independence party since the first minister announced his intention to resign last month.
Murrell, who has been under pressure over questions about SNP funding, said on Saturday he had planned to step down after the party chose Sturgeon’s successor at the end of the month, but would now leave with immediate effect.
The SNP admitted on Thursday it had 30,000 fewer members than claimed at the start of a fiercely contested campaign to elect a new standard-bearer to end Scotland’s three-century union with England .
Murrell’s resignation follows the departure of Murray Foote, head of communications for SNP members of the Scottish Parliament, on Friday. Foote said there were “serious issues” with statements issued “as a courtesy to colleagues at party headquarters” to journalists questioning SNP membership numbers.
“As chief executive, I have responsibility for the SNP’s response to media queries about our membership numbers,” Murrell said in a statement. “While there was no intent to mislead, I accept that this has been the result.”
Divisions within the SNP and complaints about the handling of the leadership election have eroded the storied discipline that helped the party take control of Scotland’s devolved government in 2007 and win every major election since then.
Kate Forbes, the Finance Secretary and one of the two main candidates to become the next SNP leader and First Minister, said in a letter to members posted on Twitter that she was saddened and saddened by the extraordinary upheaval in our party over the past few days. Was surprised. ,
Ash Regan, a former community safety minister and outside candidate for the leadership, said she was “encouraged to see the democratic foundation of the party now asserting itself”. Regan has previously stated that having a wife and husband team as party leader and CEO creates a conflict of interest, especially during leadership elections.
Hamza Yusuf, the health secretary and bookmakers’ favorite to succeed Sturgeon, has run on a platform generally supportive of her record, but has also called for reform at SNP headquarters.
Joseph said on Saturday that he agreed with Murrell that it was time “to make way for a new leader to appoint a new chief executive who was as passionate about the SNP and the cause of independence as he has been”.
After all three candidates joined a call for the SNP to reveal the current size of its membership, the party said on Thursday that 72,186 people were eligible to take part in the leadership vote, which will close on March 27.
The SNP claimed at the start of the race that it was still close to the reported 104,000 members at the end of 2021 – a marked decline from a peak of 125,000 in 2019.
The party has been criticized for its handling of funds raised in 2017 and 2019 for the expected independence referendum campaign.
And it has faced questions about a £107,620 loan made by Murrell to the party in 2021 “for working capital purposes”. The debt was not declared to the Election Commission until more than a year after the violation of election finance rules.
Asked at a press conference last month when she found out about the debt, Sturgeon said she could not remember and that what her husband did with his resources was “a matter for him”.
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