SNP chief 'right' to resign amid party membership numbers row

The SNP has lost another top official after Nicola Sturgeon's husband stepped down as the party's chief executive, as Peter Smith reports

SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf says it is "right" for Peter Murrell to announce his immediate resignation as chief executive of the party.

Reports had suggested members of the SNP's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) threatened a vote of no confidence in him.

It follows the departure of the SNP media chief Murray Foote, who left on Friday amid a row over the party's membership numbers.

Mr Murrell - Nicola Sturgeon's husband - has been the party's chief executive for more than 20 years, but Mr Yousaf said recent events had made his decision the right one.

"He's helped guide us to many elections, he's 14 election victories under his leadership of headquarters, but it's the right thing for him to do," he told STV.

"The last 72 hours in particular have been quite challenging for the party and I hope we're able to move on from the issue around membership numbers and concentrate on the issues that are important to people."

ITV News' Amy Lewis discusses what Peter Murrell's resignation means for the SNP

In a statement, Mr Murrell 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.

"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."

Mr Murrell is married to Nicola Sturgeon. Credit: PA

He added that he was "very proud" to have served in the role, saying: "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."

Earlier this week, it emerged that the party had lost 30,000 members in just over a year.

Mr Foote said that after speaking to the party's HQ, he had issued responses to the media which had "serious issues" and he later decided there was a "serious impediment" to his role.

On Thursday, the party revealed membership as of February 15 this year was 72,186, having fallen from 103,884 in 2021.

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The findings corroborated a story in the Sunday Mail, in February, around the SNP losing 30,000 members, something Mr Foote had strongly denied at the time.

On Saturday, the Herald newspaper reported that a senior member of the NEC said: "We have the numbers. There's not a hope in hell that Peter can survive a no confidence motion."

Earlier, SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes had acknowledged "extraordinary turmoil" in the party.

Fellow leadership hopeful and Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said he agreed with Mr Murrell's decision, saying that it is "time for him to move on".

"With less than ten days to go in this leadership contest, it is vital we all focus on the policies and vision we have for the party, movement and country," he added.

Meanwhile, the SNP's political opponents highlighted that the party's finances are still being investigated.

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy MSP said: "A fish rots from the head down - and the same applies to the SNP.

"Peter Murrell’s resignation is long overdue - but there remain serious questions for him to answer, not least over the 'missing' £600k from party accounts.

"The brutal, shambolic SNP leadership election appears to have been the tipping point that’s forced the First Minister's husband to quit before he was pushed."