SNP leadership contest: Next leader will need to heal party's gaping, self-inflicted wounds

The next first minister and SNP leader has a huge task ahead of them. After a torrid leadership contest, they will need to heal the party’s gaping, self-inflicted wounds and find a way to move forward.

Recent weeks may have been difficult, but the past few days have been truly dreadful.

The resignation of Murray Foote, the SNP’s media chief, kicked off a weekend the party will be unlikely to forget in a hurry. He quit after issuing comments about the party’s membership numbers, which turned out to be inaccurate. Worse, he publicly ridiculed a story in the Sunday Mail that said the SNP had lost 30,000 members. It turns out that far from being “drivel”, this figure was bang on the money.

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Mr Foote said he had acted in good faith and pointed the finger at SNP HQ. On Saturday, chief executive Peter Murrell – Nicola Sturgeon’s husband – announced he would step down. "While there was no intent to mislead, I accept that this has been the outcome,” he said in a statement.

SNP leadership candidates Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf and Ash ReganSNP leadership candidates Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan
SNP leadership candidates Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan

There has long been a sense of arrogance and disdain from some in the SNP towards media scrutiny. The party’s behaviour towards the Sunday Mail exemplifies this. Journalists expect spin, not falsehoods.

But Mr Murrell’s resignation also fanned the flames of mistrust around the leadership vote. Two of the candidates, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, had already questioned the independence of the election process. Figures close to Ms Regan suggested the ballot should be rerun.

Fergus Mutch, the former head of the SNP press team in Holyrood, said there are “legitimate questions” and starting again was “probably quite a good idea just in terms of transparency and legitimacy”. Geoff Aberdein, Alex Salmond’s former chief of staff, said “there is certainly a case” for such a move.

Ms Regan’s team have now put forward suggestions for a route forward, including allowing members to change their vote.

It beggars belief the election of the next first minister of Scotland has come to this. This is the party that has been in government since 2007. There is an element of hubris to how this contest has unfolded.

Mike Russell, the SNP president who is now overseeing the operation of its headquarters on an interim basis, summed the situation up well over the weekend. “I think it is fair to say there is a tremendous mess and we have to clear it up, and that’s the task I’m trying to take on in the short term,” he told the BBC.

“We have got to have this concluded in the next eight days and then, the new leader has to look at the party and say ‘let’s rebuild this and let’s rebuild the trust of Scotland’. This has not been an edifying process. There hasn’t been a contested leadership in the SNP for 19 years, and it shows.”

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The next SNP leader will need to clear up this mess while addressing the needs of the wider country. It will require a politician with the skill to act as a unifying force while implementing the change that is so obviously needed. Will any of the three candidates be up to the job?



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