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  1. Politics
  2. Scotland
18 March 2023

Peter Murrell’s resignation shows the SNP is collapsing from within

The departure of Nicola Sturgeon’s husband over misleading membership figures leaves Scotland’s governing party in chaos.

By Chris Deerin

With the resignation today of the SNP‘s chief executive, Peter Murrell, the party’s executive suite is starting to resemble the final scene of Reservoir Dogs.

There are precious few left standing now – Nicola Sturgeon, her husband Murrell (who held his role for 24 years), Sturgeon’s closest adviser Liz Lloyd, deputy first minister John Swinney, and media chief Murray Foote have all quit over the past few days and weeks. More are likely to follow. Scotland’s governing party is in a terrible, terrible mess, all of its own making.

There’s a best-selling thriller in how the Sturgeon era has suddenly imploded. It has the lot: power, secrecy, unhealthily incestuous relationships, lies, double dealing and a police investigation.

Somehow, out of all this, whoever replaces Sturgeon as leader and first minister has to reunite a warring party, persuade an aghast nation that all is well, rethink the project of government, and win next year’s general election. Good luck with that.

[See also: The SNP seems to think it can’t lose Scotland – but it can]

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Murrell’s downfall was inevitable after Foote unwittingly lied to the media about the party’s membership numbers. On the basis of information provided by SNP HQ, Foote publicly dismissed a news report that membership had fallen by around 30,000 from the officially claimed 100,000 figure. When it emerged on Friday that the report was in fact correct, Foote – a straight-shooting and well-respected former editor of the Daily Record – resigned.

Murrell soon followed, issuing a statement shortly before noon on Saturday in which he accepted that “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.”

Murrell insisted he had planned to leave anyway after the party leadership election was completed – not that he was likely to have been given much choice in the matter – but accepted that “my future has become a distraction from the campaign”. He still faces the prospect of a police inquiry into the alleged misuse of £600,000 of party funds.

Sturgeon’s departure has acted like a pin being pulled from a grenade. In a few short weeks the reputations of many of her allies have been shredded and her legacy is in tatters. It’s become clear that her party had been quietly seething for a while at how she was running things. 

[See also: Why the battle for the Union is far from over]

Her preferred successor, Humza Yousaf – whom the party machine has blatantly favoured during the ongoing contest – has proved a dud, and there are rumours that he is failing to secure the expected support among members. The other two candidates, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, have effectively ganged up against the central operation, with devastating effect.

There are calls now for the leadership race to be restarted. Voting opened on 13 March and plenty of members will already have returned their ballots. Forbes and Regan claim, with justification, that the process has been completely mishandled by the party, and that some members may now regret having backed Yousaf as further damning details emerge.

A rerun remains unlikely for now, but if Yousaf is declared the winner on 27 March his opponents will cry foul. Such is their distrust that they are demanding an independent body be brought in to ensure the election outcome is fair.

The opposition parties thought the departure of Sturgeon would give them an opportunity finally to rein in the nationalists and bring their long period of dominance to an end. They didn’t expect that the SNP would proactively do the job for them.

[See also: Scotland needs its own Rishi Sunak]

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