Nicola Sturgeon has said her husband Peter Murrell was ‘right’ to announce his resignation as Chief Executive of the SNP, amid demands from within the party for him to quit – as rivals battle it out to replace her as leader.
Ms Sturgeon, 52, said her husband had ‘obviously taken responsibility for the recent issue with membership’, adding that he had intended to step down when a new leader was in place. She said: ‘I think he was right to make that announcement today.
‘Peter has been a key part of the electoral success we have achieved in recent years and I know there will be a recognition of that across the party.’
Mr Murrell, 58, announced his resignation on Saturday after a group of members of the SNP’s ruling body launched a bid to remove him.
A majority of members of the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) reportedly were ready to support a motion of no confidence in the Chief Executive if he did not voluntarily leave.
Nicola Sturgeon ‘s husband Peter Murrell has stepped down as the Chief Executive of the SNP
Mr Murrell has been the SNP’s Chief Executive for the last 20 years and married Ms Sturgeon in 2010
Nicola Sturgeon today spoke o the media at her home following the resignation of her husband Peter Murrell as SNP chief executive
The party is facing political turmoil after Nicola Sturgeon, 52, announced her intention to resign as First Minister and leader of the SNP last month.
His resignation follows SNP media chief Murray Foote leaving on Friday amid a row over the party’s membership numbers.
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.
He had reportedly previously been told by Mr Murrell to deny claims that the SNP’s membership had dropped by 30,000 as ‘inaccurate’ and ‘drivel’ – and was accused of inadvertently providing bogus membership numbers to a journalist.
On Thursday, the party revealed membership as of February 15 this year was 72,186, having fallen from 103,884 in 2021.
The numbers only emerged after the party was accused of a lack of integrity and transparency, including by those running to replace Ms Sturgeon themselves.
There have also been multiple protests by SNP members that the leadership contest to determine the replacement for Ms Sturgeon was being overseen by her own husband.
Just before Mr Murrell announced his resignation, a senior member of the SNP’s governing body told Sky News: ‘The buck stops with Peter… he shouldn’t have thrown a junior member of staff under the bus.’
Members have questioned the role Mr Murrell would play in the contest, given his wife’s position as head of the party, which is due to see a new leader elected on March 27.
Mr Murrell has been the party’s chief executive for more than 20 years.
Before that Mr Murrell had worked in the constituency office of former SNP leader Alex Salmond.
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.
‘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.’
In a letter to Peter Murrell (pictured with wife Ms Sturgeon), the SNP CEO who is also Ms Sturgeon’s husband, leadership hopeful Ash Regan said: ‘As the chief executive officer of the SNP, it is your responsibility to ensure that the leadership election process is transparent, fair, and equitable’
Ms Sturgeon spoke to media about her husband’s resignation outside her Glasgow home
Those running to replace Nicola Sturgeon were quick to welcome the news.
Three candidates – Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf – are in the chase to be the next advocate for Scottish independence.
Voting is already underway and closes at 12pm on March 27.
SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes, 32, today acknowledged ‘extraordinary turmoil’ in the party.
On Saturday, Ms Forbes issued an open letter to SNP members who had yet to cast their vote.
But she herself has been beset by issues after she told the media she would have voted against allowing gay marriage due to her conservative religious beliefs.
She also said she believed having a child while unmarried was ‘wrong’.
Mr Forbes later apologised and said she would not seek to overturn laws already won.
She told members on Saturday: ‘Many of you, like me, will be hurt and bemused by the extraordinary turmoil in our party over the last days.
‘If anyone was in any doubt that this needs to be a change election for the SNP, recent events and resignations confirm the core message of my campaign: continuity won’t cut it.’
She continued: ‘I love the SNP, and I am passionate about Scotland’s future as an independent, fair and wealthy nation.
‘A few years ago, scandal rocked the SNP and I was asked to step up and deliver the budget with only a few hours’ notice.
‘I did it, for my party and for the people of this country. That is the mark of who I am. I will not shy away from difficult times.
‘Instead I find the solution and give it my all.
‘I have a great deal of respect for the two other candidates, but I am the only candidate who can truly deliver change as First Minister.’
Ms Forbes, who is on maternity leave from her government role as Finance Secretary, pledged to reform the party and committed to independent auditing of membership and finances.
Ash Regan, 49, one of the other candidates in the race, tweeted about the report that NEC members were calling on Mr Murrell to go.
Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan all hope to become the next leader of the SNP
On hearing the news he had resigned she said: ‘Eight years ago was the point where it was unacceptable to have the husband of the party leader as the CEO.
‘I am encouraged to see the democratic foundations of the party now asserting their rightful function.
‘The SNP is more than capable of surviving this, as long as we stick true to our roots, and we uphold the values of our members.
‘Accountability, transparency, modernity and accessibility are our foundations.
‘Every time we believe we have met our capacity to overcome a challenge, we can look up to our guiding lights, and know that our capacity may be limitless. I will lead a Stronger SNP, together for #Scotland.’
SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who is backing Ash Regan’s leadership campaign, said ‘if anyone was in any doubt’ that the party needed a ‘reset’ then ‘the events of the last days have proved it’.
‘Winning elections isn’t enough. It’s what you do with the wins that matters,’ she said on Twitter.
‘Integrity matters. Our party & our country can & will do better than this.’
Fellow leadership candidate Humza Yousaf, currently the Cabinet Secretary for Health & Social Care, addressed Mr Foote’s departure on Friday.
He said Mr Foote ‘has been outstanding since joining the SNP media team’ and that he would be ‘sorely missed’.
Mr Yousaf added: ‘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.’
He hit headlines this week after an awkward gaffe saw him ask female Ukrainian refugees where ‘all the men’ were – only to be told they were all fighting against Russia.
Mr Yousaf praised the outgoing chief executive as ‘an outstanding servant of the independence movement’.
The Health Secretary said: ‘I agree with Peter that it is time for him to move on and make way for a new leader to appoint a new chief executive as passionate about the SNP and the cause of independence as he has been.
‘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.’
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.’
Michael Russell, the party’s current president who has previously served as chief executive and a Scottish Government minister, will take over the operation of SNP headquarters until a permanent replacement for Mr Murrell is found.