After Nicola Sturgeon’s emergency exit, Peter Murrell should go too - Brian Monteith

SNP politicians wishing to put themselves forward as a candidate for SNP leader and hence First Minister, awaiting confirmation by only a Holyrood conclave, have until Friday to decide if they are up to it.

All considering the prospect will be delighted Humza Yousaf has already declared. Yousaf is the candidate who makes all the others look good – by them simply being competent, calm, collected and more likely to convert doubters. Every ministerial job Yousaf has touched has become a monument to calamities and crises. He is the candidate SNP opponents least fear and in their prayers ask to be given the job.

The bookies favourites, as yet undeclared, are Kate Forbes and Angus Robertson – but they have the serious handicap that at every turn they backed the First Minister without so much as a murmur of dissent on Sturgeon’s policy decisions that left her with a legacy of devastation and decline. With so many outcomes on education, healthcare, transport, and local government far worse than gifted to Sturgeon by Alex Salmond – how can Forbes and Robertson create the distance required from the Sturgeon years that will be needed if the Scottish Labour Party is not to overtake the SNP at the UK and Holyrood elections?

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If they know how to reverse the declining support for the SNP and independence then they have to be open about it – believing they need only move discretely away from Sturgeon’s inheritance will not be enough. The damage Sturgeon has done is already very public and, trust me, is only going to increase in the public’s consciousness in the remainder of 2023.

Nicola Sturgeon votes with her husband Peter Murrell in December 2019Nicola Sturgeon votes with her husband Peter Murrell in December 2019
Nicola Sturgeon votes with her husband Peter Murrell in December 2019

Sturgeon’s growing list of Scottish Government catastrophes that she is running away from – including those like the deposit return scheme that are already in the post – is, after all, the reason the SNP is having its private election to replace the First Minister.

It will be no use arguing Forbes or Robertson will ensure business as usual, with the traditional formula of confected grievances with Westminster, despising Tories simply for existing – and centralising and nationalising any public service they wish to take credit for without recognising they might actually make matters worse (as they inevitably have). They can leave those ingredients to Humza Yousaf and if, because SNP members succumb to Sturgeon loyalty, he wins and then carries them forward into an election, the SNP truly will suffer an existential fate.

No, those divisive and corrosive policies need to be abandoned, and be seen to be abandoned in heart and mind. To win over the electorate’s sympathies the great distancing that is needed must be fully public and advertised in advance. Only then will it be seen as sincere and not mere conveniently trimming that may be reversed at some later date.

It is not for me to tell potential SNP leaders what they should do to further their aims, but it is my job to write about how I believe politics works, especially as it effects Scotland, and what electorates find appealing or repulsive. Such insights I may have are applied equally to all parties.

I believe the public admires hard work on its behalf (this won Sturgeon many admirers), it respects their leaders being candid (Sturgeon has a canny grasp of how to evoke this rare quality when it might work for her), and they especially respect honesty (this was fast becoming Sturgeon’s weakest link).

It is in these qualities that Forbes and Robertson will likely struggle – for the simple reason they continually backed Sturgeon and now need to employ a Reverse Ferret to extricate themselves from their umbilical link to her record.

There is however a solution the SNP members could embrace that will send a shiver down the unionist spines. They could choose the other candidate who has already declared her intention to seek election as SNP leader – Ash Regan.

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It matters not she is undoubtedly less well known , what matters is that she has already proven her leadership credentials by her bravery in resigning her post so she could oppose the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

Whatever has been speculated about Kate Forbes’ possible private views based on her Presbyterian faith, the fact is that publicly she remained a minister of Sturgeon’s government and did not resign, as Ash Regan did, to make a stand.

When members of a political party, be it the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats or SNP are required to choose a leader, one of the most important qualities they must identify is their commitment to principles. Regan clearly had to think long and hard about resigning (it is never and easy decision) but for all her undoubted support for independence her principles told her the GRR Bill was wrong. That degree of honesty, candour and a willingness to work hard for the cause through self-sacrifice is rare in politics today and would be foolish to ignore.

Crucially, for it will become very important, only a candidate so removed from the Sturgeon dynasty as Regan will also be in a position to call time on Peter Murrell remaining as the SNP’s Chief Executive . It is already preposterous that the husband of the retiring SNP leader has ultimate authority in overseeing her replacement. Can you imagine the Tories would have allowed Carrie Johnson to run the party’s election to replace Boris?

To remove all the doubts surrounding the Sturgeon legacy – not least the heavy questions still remaining unanswered around her party’s finances – Nicola’s emergency exit must be accompanied by Peter Murrell’s too. They were a joint enterprise and there’s should be a joint departure. SNP members must ask how they can make that necessity a reality – and if anyone but Regan has the cojones to do it.

Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments and Editor of



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