Nicola Sturgeon insists SNP is not in a mess: ‘We’re suffering some growing pains’

·4-min read

Nicola Sturgeon has blamed “growing pains” for the SNP’s current woes and insisted her party “is not in a mess”, as a row over the size of its membership cast the contest to replace her into disarray.

Scotland’s ruling party is reeling from a number of blows, including the dramatic resignations of SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – Ms Sturgeon’s husband – and media chief Murray Foote, amid controversy over membership numbers.

After all three candidates vying to replace Ms Sturgeon called for transparency, the figures were finally revealed on Thursday, showing that the party faithful had fallen by about 30,000 in just over a year, to just over 72,000 members.

Nicola Sturgeon says the SNP is going through “growing pains”
Nicola Sturgeon says the SNP is going through “growing pains”

Fergus Mutch, former communications chief, suggested it would be a good idea to restart the leadership ballot, as Mr Murrell’s temporary replacement, SNP president Mike Russell, warned that his role would be to clean up the party’s “tremendous mess”.

But appearing on ITV’s Loose Women on Monday, Ms Sturgeon denied that the SNP was “in a mess”, as she said the party had “gone down from a very, very, very high point of membership”.

“It is going through, how can I put this, some growing pains right now,” Ms Sturgeon said. “They are necessary, they are difficult, but I am stepping down from a party which hasn’t lost an election since 2010 in Scotland.”

In further comments to Sky News, Ms Sturgeon added: “I’m not suggesting that this is not a difficult process and at times, it has been a less than edifying process.”

Appeared to take aim at contenders Kate Forbes and Ash Reagan, she said: “What I’d say to all of those standing to succeed me as leader ... is remember that I am standing down from a party that hasn’t lost an election in Scotland since 2010.

“This is a moment for refresh, renewal, change, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We have the trust of the people of Scotland and we’ve got to make sure we retain that trust.”

Kate Forbes said she still has confidence in process to find new SNP leader (PA Wire)
Kate Forbes said she still has confidence in process to find new SNP leader (PA Wire)

Ms Forbes – who has been forced to defend the “robustness and honesty” of her stinging criticism of the SNP’s record in office during the campaign – has said she still has confidence in the process to find a new leader and does not wish the contest to be rerun.

Asked how confident she is in the party’s ability to run the process through to the end, Ms Forbes told the BBC: “Very confident. I think that we’re at a place now where we need to get to the end over the next week.”

She added: “I obviously strongly believe that the events over the last few days – which have of course hurt, and I think bemused, a lot of SNP members, not least myself – have confirmed my calls from the very beginning of the contest, which is that we need change in the SNP.”

Humza Yousaf, seen as the continuity candidate, said the row over membership numbers is an “own goal”. As he quit his role as SNP media chief on Friday, Mr Foote – a former Daily Record editor – said a failure to give him accurate numbers had been a “serious impediment” to his role.

SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf called the membership row an ‘own goal’ (PA Wire)
SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf called the membership row an ‘own goal’ (PA Wire)

Meanwhile, former SNP leader Alex Salmond told Times Radio: “Things have gone badly wrong in SNP headquarters.”

On the membership drop, he said the “key underlying factor is lack of progress in moving towards independence”, adding the transgender debate “alienated a substantial section of people who cared about women’s rights”.

Scotland’s outgoing premier, who will chair her final cabinet meeting and face her final First Minister's Questions in Holyrood on Thursday, also said that she had not heard whether police wish to interview her or Mr Murrell as part of an investigation into SNP finances.

Police Scotland and the Crown Office continue to probe £600,000 raised by the SNP for independence campaigning after allegations on donations fraud. Asked about the matter, Ms Sturgeon told Sky News: “I wouldn’t comment on any ongoing police investigation and I am not going to comment on this one.”

The probe was launched in 2021 after it was alleged money had been diverted from a “ring-fenced” fund to fight a Scottish independence referendum – sparking the resignation of several senior people from the SNP ruling body.