SNP chief executive Peter Murrell has quit amid a row over the party’s membership numbers.
Mr Murrell, who is Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, had reportedly faced demands from members of the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) to announce a date for his departure or face a vote of no confidence.
It comes after SNP media chief Murray Foote quit on Friday admitting there had been “serious issues” with responses he gave to the media about party membership numbers.
In February, the party had strongly denied a report in the Sunday Mail that it had lost around 30,000 members – which Mr Foote derided as “drivel” and “tartan bollocks”.
But membership numbers published on Thursday as part of the SNP leadership election confirmed that the party’s membership stood at 72,186 as of February 15, having fallen from a high of 103,884 in 2021 – a drop of 31,698.
In a statement issued on Saturday, Peter 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.”
He added: “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.”
Meanwhile, one of the SNP leadership candidates Kate Ms Forbes admitted the party is facing “extraordinary turmoil” following the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon.
In an open letter sent to members, she said: “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.
In her letter, she referred to stepping in at late notice to deliver the Scottish Government’s budget following the sudden resignation of then-finance secretary Derek Mackay in 2020, after it was revealed he had sent hundreds of messages to a teenage boy.
On Saturday, the Herald newspaper reported an unnamed senior member of the NEC who said: “We have the numbers. There’s not a hope in hell that Peter can survive a no confidence motion.”
The newspaper said that rebel NEC members are calling for Mr Murrell to set a date for his departure by the end of Saturday.
Mr Murrell has been the party’s chief executive for more than 20 years.
i has contacted the SNP for comment.
Ash Regan, one of the other candidates in the race, tweeted about the report that NEC members were calling on Mr Murrell to go.
She said: “I am encouraged to see the democratic foundations of the party now asserting their rightful functions.”
Fellow leadership candidate Humza Yousaf 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.”