Nicola Sturgeon's 'New SNP' has more to worry about than just its membership figures – Kenny MacAskill
The House of Sturgeon’s burning down and the resignation of Peter Murrell won’t provide a firewall. Not only were they joined in holy matrimony, but they were joined at a hip in her New SNP enterprise.
Murrell was obviously as blindsided by events as she was. Rumours abound as to the trigger for her departure but the coming weeks will no doubt provide some clarity. For him, it was the resignation of Murray Foote, the SNP Holyrood comms chief. His appointment, given a past incarnation as the editor of a tabloid which had proclaimed “the Vow” days before the 2014 referendum, had been a surprise and indeed an irritant to many members.
It didn’t swing the vote, but it left a bad taste in Yes activists’ mouths. There’ll be little sympathy amongst the rank and file for him, while his resignation on the grounds of being given misleading information will simply bring forth guffaws from many.
But misleading information he was given, a fiction and a lie spun by Murrell and the leadership coterie. The drop in membership had been evident for quite a while and yet denied. Indeed, large influxes of new recruits were trumpeted – such as when Nicola Sturgeon gave evidence to the Holyrood committee on what’s dubbed the Alex Salmond affair.
But anyone on the ground could see the party was a pale shadow of itself and had been hollowed out. An activist membership supplanted by a cadre of elected members and staffers on the payroll, all beholden to Sturgeon.
The idea that Murrell’s resignation will draw a line under the issue and allow the myths to continue is for the birds. There’s still the financial shenanigans over which he presided and which Sturgeon cannot deny any responsibility for, given her role as party leader. Previous attempts to remove Murrell are also said to have seen her state that if he went, so would she.
Just where the police investigation into the party’s finances is heading, who knows? But it doesn’t look good and whilst some members who spoke out and resigned from posts in outrage can hold their heads up high, that can’t be said for others. The idea that the party president didn’t know what was going on as the membership slumped, but Sovietesque figures were proclaimed, seems risible. In my view, he and others either must have known or deliberately chosen to look away.
The party’s problems aren’t just about members or finances but also other aspects, such as legal fees. An inordinate sum of members’ money was spent on legal fees – but for what and whom? That was never disclosed even when I was a member and an elected member of parliament for the SNP. Senior officials and Sturgeon acolytes simply refused to reply.
The SNP membership consists overwhelmingly of good people committed to Independence and a better Scotland. But the senior figures complicit in all this are going to get burned. It’s become a firestorm. That’s why Kate Forbes is right to state that continuity just won’t wash. They need to clean out the Augean stable of Sturgeon and her crew.
Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian
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