SNP in a ‘tremendous mess’ following row over membership numbers, admits party president

The SNP is in a “tremendous mess” following a row over membership numbers that led to the resignation of its chief executive, the party’s president has said. Mike Russell insisted he had “no idea” why journalists were misled over how many members had quit the party in recent years.

The veteran Nationalist was appointed interim chief executive of the SNP yesterday following the dramatic resignation of Peter Murrell. He confirmed his resignation just hours after Murray Foote, head of communications for SNP MSPs, announced his own departure.

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The SNP was finally forced to admit last week that it had lost 30,000 members over the last two years – despite rubbishing earlier reports of an exodus. Speaking on BBC Scotland, Russell said it was “fair to say there is a tremendous mess and we have to clear it up”.

Asked why the party had misled the public over the number of SNP members, he added: “I have no idea why that took place. I have the greatest respect for Murray Foote, and I have known Peter for a long time. I am not going to speculate about what happened, but we do need an answer to that.”

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Asked if he knew how many members the party had, Russell continued: “No, I didn’t. They are simply reported every year. We have not had that report in terms of the last year. But I certainly would not have gone out on a limb in terms of figures, believing anything other than that.

“So as far as I’m concerned they were a surprise to me, and I think we have to find out why that took place. I’m certainly not defending it.”

Russell added: “We were losing members and we were losing members we should have known about. We clearly were not told about that and that is something I want to know why it took place.”

Asked if it was reasonable for Scots to wonder how the SNP could run the country if this was how it ran its party, Russell said: “Of course it’s reasonable. And I would hope the answers lie in the work we have done over the last 15 years.”

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