NICOLA Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell has quit as the SNP’s backroom boss amid claims of lies, secrecy and even vote-rigging in the contest to replace his wife
His resignation comes after mounting pressure from the SNP’s National Executive Committee this morning after he was threatened with a no confidence vote.
Mr Murrell has been SNP Chief Executive since 1999.
Mr Murrell said he planned to announce his departure after the leadership contest.
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.”
Mr Murrell, 58, added he had panned to confirm his departure after the leadership election however he claimed his “future had become a distraction” and decided to stand down “so the party can focus fully on issues about Scotland’s future.”
He also claimed he had no role in the election contest at any point saying it was being run by the National Secretary.
He added: “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.
“14 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.“
It comes as members of the SNP’s governing National Executive Committee had warned Mr Murrell had to go by the end of today – or face a no confidence vote.
It follows revelations that dodgy information on membership numbers was issued to the public this year.
And it also emerged that Ash Regan – one of the three leadership candidates – was considering legal action to halt the contest amid vote-rigging claims in favour of bookies’ frontrunner Humza Yousaf.
A senior source of the National Executive Committee said earlier: “We have the numbers.
“There’s not a hope in hell that Peter can survive a no confidence motion.”
SNP chief exec Mr Murrell is widely seen as a key mastermind behind his wife and the Nats’ electoral success in the past decade.
He has been a divisive figure in the SNP for some time, amid an ongoing police probe into alleged fraud after nearly £500,000 of crowdfunded donations – pledged for a referendum campaign – appeared to have been spent on other things.
He has also faced criticism for refusing to tell leadership candidates – Mr Yousaf, Ms Regan, and Kate Forbes – how many members the SNP has who will vote in the contest.
On February 12, a newspaper report revealed around 30,000 members had left the party, partly due to anger at Ms Sturgeon’s gender self-ID push.
But the figure was rubbished by SNP bosses, with an aggressive spin operation mounted by media chiefs after discussions with HQ to try to shut down the claims.
Days later, Ms Sturgeon announced she was resigning, and membership numbers came under the spotlight again – as SNP members will form the electorate to effectively vote for the next First Minister.
On February 21, SNP HQ told The Scottish Sun that the total of paid-up SNP subscribers who will vote “shouldn’t be too far off our latest published number, which was just over 100k (103,884 members)”.
But the party then refused to disclose exact numbers, fuelling suspicions about murky goings-on behind the scenes at Nats HQ and even claims of vote-rigging.
On Thursday, after calls from all three leadership candidates, the SNP admitted there were 72,186 cardholders as of mid February – down by 31,698 or 31 per cent from the last published count of 103,884 at the end of 2021, just over 14 months ago.
The revelation that numbers had indeed dropped significantly – and dodgy information had been fed to the Press – led to SNP Holyrood spin doctor Murray Foote quitting on Friday night.
Ex newspaper editor Mr Foote also suggested he’d been fed wrong information from SNP HQ.
He tweeted: “Acting in good faith and as a courtesy to colleagues at party HQ, I issued agreed party responses to media inquiries regarding membership.
“It has subsequently become apparent there are serious issues with these responses.
“Consequently, I concluded this created a serious impediment to my role and I resigned my position with the SNP group at Holyrood.”
SNP MP Joanna Cherry said Mr Foote’s resignation was an “honourable decision”, but warned it was the “the source of the lies who should be resigning.”
And this morning, a senior member of the SNP’s NEC told The Herald: “In all honesty, he’s eight years too late.
“He should have resigned when Nicola became leader and he should have most certainly announced the departure date when Nicola resigned a few weeks ago.
“When you’re a staff member, and you’re at the epicentre of the story, time and time again, you need to understand that it’s time to go.”
The statement added: “The party can’t start afresh unless both the political and operational leadership are renewed.
“The tight grip, they both held on government and party respectively was unhealthy and led to poor decision making.
“Whoever wins the leadership race needs to bin the tight ship approach, widen the circle of trust and start surrounding themselves with people who challenge them, not bag carriers who tell them everything they want to hear.”
Ms Regan and third leadership candidate Kate Forbes have criticised Mr Murrell in recent weeks, with Ms Regan suggesting there’s a “conflict of interest” in having him in charge of SNP HQ while the contest is ongoing.
Ms Regan has repeatedly compared Mr Murrell’s role to being like Carrie Johnson “counting the votes for Boris’s successor”.
Both Ms Regan and Ms Forbes have raised fears over the integrity of the ballot – and called for an independent observer to oversee the election.
Mr Yousaf has repeatedly stuck up for Mr Murrell during the leadership contest despite the concerns, including saying: “Peter Murrell is a proven winner.
“He’s won election after election after election for the SNP.”
But on Friday, after concerns from SNP politicians about Mr Foot’s resignation, Mr Yousaf suggested he now backed an overhaul at SNP HQ, claiming: “Reform of our HQ operations has been a key part of my campaign.
“With fresh party leadership should come a fresh approach to our HQ operation.”
Today, it also emerged that Ms Regan’s campaign is consulting lawyers about whether to apply to the courts for an interdict to halt the SNP leadership race, due to concerns about how the contest is being conducted.
A source said: “We have been speaking with our legal team. We are looking at all options. We are scoping out possibilities, all scenarios are being planned for.”
SNP HQ has repeatedly insisted the contest arrangements are above board.
And despite claims it is monitoring votes as they come in, it has insisted it will not know tallies until voting closes on Monday March 27.
Mr Murrell has been SNP chief executive since 1999, and married Ms Sturgeon in 2010.
Amid the chaos today, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “Peter Murrell’s resignation is long overdue.
“But if this is the state of the party with senior members fighting like ferrets in a sack, just imagine what’s going on in government.
“The people of Scotland need transparency and accountability. They deserve better than this.”
Responding to the claim that Mr Murrell could be forced out today, SNP MP Joanna Cherry tweeted: “Some of us have been saying there’s a problem with the way in which @theSNP has been run under Murrell for years & have been monstered for it.
“I hope those who have belatedly woken up to the issues here will reflect on their behaviour particularly on the NEC.”
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