SNP head of communications resigns after denying fall in membership figures

<span>Photograph: Stuart Wallace/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Stuart Wallace/Rex/Shutterstock

The head of communications for the Scottish National party has resigned amid an escalating row over membership figures, as opposition parties described him as “a fall guy for the SNP hierarchy”.

Murray Foote announced on Friday evening that he had resigned after he denied reports about falling party membership figures that were in fact accurate.

The Sunday Mail reported in February that the SNP’s membership had slumped by 30,000 since 2021, a story verified on Thursday when the party revealed that the total number of members eligible to vote in its leadership contest has fallen to 72,186 after coming under sustained pressure to release the figures.

This number was significantly lower than that previously estimated by party sources and briefed to journalists in the early stages of the campaign, which referred to the 103,884 recorded by the SNP in 31 December 2021, after a peak of 125,000 in 2019 following an influx of support on the back of the 2014 independence referendum.

Foote had described the initial report as “drivel”, with the party responding that the “figure that was reported is not just flat wrong, it’s wrong by about 30,000”.

In a statement released on Friday evening, Foote, a former editor of the Daily Record, said: “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.”

All three candidates to replace Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader demanded that the party release up to date membership figures this week. Two of the candidates – Kate Forbes and Ash Regan – questioned the integrity of the ballot process itself but offered little specific detail of their concerns.

The third candidate, Humza Yousaf, widely understood to be the party leadership’s preferred successor, warned against “baseless smears”, while other SNP colleagues derided Forbes for “Trumpian” behaviour and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar joked about the finance minister planning a “saltire-waving Stop the Steal rally” should she lose.

Scottish Conservative MSP Russell Findlay, himself a former journalist, defended Foote.

“Murray Foote was giving out information he had been told, which was false,” said Findlay. “He didn’t lie. The SNP lied. The problem is not a press officer. The problem is the rotten SNP leadership who deliberately lied to the press and public.

“We wish our best to Mr Foote, who was clearly told false information and is the fall guy for the SNP hierarchy.”

An SNP spokesman described Foote as an “outstanding head of press for the Holyrood group” who had “acted entirely in good faith throughout”, adding that membership figures were not usually produced in response to individual media queries.

“The party was asked a specific question about loss of members as a direct result of the GRR (Gender Recognition Reform) Bill and Indyref2. The answer given was intended to make clear that these two reasons had not been the cause of significant numbers of members leaving.

“In retrospect, however, we should not have relied on an understanding of people’s reasons for leaving as the basis of the information given to Murray and, thereafter, the media.

“A new, modernised membership system is currently being developed for the party.”