SNP appoints membership figures row spin doctor as new chief executive

24 August 2023, 06:43 | Updated: 24 August 2023, 06:45

SNP appoints membership figures row spin doctor as new chief executive
SNP appoints membership figures row spin doctor as new chief executive. Picture: PA

By Gina Davidson

The SNP has appointed Murray Foote, its former head of communications, as its new chief executive just five months after he quit his post following a scandal over false membership figures during the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader.

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Foote resigned after he said he was given false information by his predecessor Peter Murrell to provide to the media, suggesting the party's membership was more than 100,000, when it was really around 72,000.

As head of communications for the SNP's parliamentary group in Holyrood, he said he had been doing the party a "favour" in dealing with membership queries from journalists.

He dismissed one report in the Sunday Mail of a fall of 30,000 members as "drivel" on Twitter, and the SNP also told the pro-independence newspaper, The National, that reports of a membership decline were "malicious and wholly inaccurate".

However the correct figures came to light after demands were made by two of the leadership contenders, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, and as a result, Foote, who said he had "acted in good faith" after being given the figures by Peter Murrell, resigned.

Murrell - the husband of former first minister Nicola Sturgeon - also then quit. He was later arrested in relation to the probe into the party's finances and released without charge pending further investigation.

LBC presenter,Iain Dale, interviews former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP.
LBC presenter,Iain Dale, interviews former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP. Picture: Alamy

Foote, who will start in the role on Monday, said: "I am delighted to take up this important role and look forward to helping build the campaign for independence, both by strengthening the SNP's headquarters functions and supporting the party's formidable organisation across Scotland."

Before taking on the role of the party's chief spin doctor, Mr Foote was the editor of the Daily Record newspaper, where he famously published "The Vow" on the paper's front page - a pledge by UK political leaders to give Scotland more powers in the lead-up to the 2014 independence referendum.

First Minister Humza Yousaf said on Twitter: "Murray will bring a great wealth of experience and talent to the role of Chief Exec of @theSNP.

"I'm delighted to have him on board as we look to strengthen @theSNP HQ, empower our incredible activists across Scotland and build a winning campaign for independence."

SNP business convener Kirsten Oswald said: "Murray was an exceptional candidate in a strong field.

"His managerial experience and skills will enable him to hit the ground running in delivering for SNP members, including leading changes in governance and transparency in party headquarters."

However Scottish Labour deputy leader Dame Jackie Baillie described Foote as a "continuity candidate".

She said: "Presented with the chance of a fresh start for the SNP after years of secrecy, Humza Yousaf has instead appointed Murray Foote as the successor to the beleaguered Peter Murrell.

"This is just the latest continuity candidate to be brought back by Humza Yousaf, who is desperately trying to get the band back together ahead of what could be their farewell tour."

A spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives said: "So much for change. The discredited SNP are merely reshuffling the same people into different posts.

“Now the man Peter Murrell lied to about SNP membership figures, causing them both to quit their posts, has replaced him as chief executive. “Nicola Sturgeon and her husband may be in the background but their top team are still running the show in the party under Humza Yousaf.”

The new party head takes the reins at a difficult time for the SNP, with the continuing police probe which has already resulted in the arrest of Mr Murrell along with Ms Sturgeon and then treasurer Colin Beattie.

The party's electoral fortunes also appear to be on the turn with recent polls suggesting a resurgent Labour Party could catch the SNP, with a Survation survey released on Wednesday showing just two points between the parties in Westminster voting intention.