The chief executive of the Scottish National Party has resigned with immediate effect in the face of a no confidence vote.
Peter Murrell, who is married to Nicola Sturgeon, said his future had become “a distraction” from the current contest to replace his wife as SNP leader and first minister following a damaging secrecy row.
His dramatic departure following more than two decades in the post comes after the party’s head of communications quit on Friday in the wake of revelations he inadvertently provided bogus membership numbers to a journalist.
Murray Foote was told to deny reports the party had lost 30,000 members branding them “inaccurate” and “drivel”.
With claims the leadership process was being undermined by a refusal to issue membership data and demands by the candidates themselves, the party was forced to confirm the significant fall in paid-up support.
Enrolment as of 15 February this year was 72,186, having dropped from 103,884 in 2021.
Ahead of Mr Murrell’s announcement, a senior member of the SNP’s governing body told Sky News: “The buck stops with Peter… he shouldn’t have thrown a junior member of staff under the bus”.
It is understood the party’s national executive committee had given Mr Murrell an ultimatum over his exit strategy – announce a plan to resign today or face a vote of no confidence.
Earlier, SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes had also acknowledged “extraordinary turmoil” in the party.
Mr Murrell, 58, had already faced accusations of a “conflict of interest” over his involvement in the race to choose his wife’s successor, with concerns raised over the integrity of the election.
In a statement, Mr Murrell said: “Responsibility for the SNP’s responses to media queries about our membership number lies with me as chief executive.
“While there was no intent to mislead, I accept that this has been the outcome. I have therefore decided to confirm my intention to step down as chief executive with immediate effect.
“I had not planned to confirm this decision until after the leadership election.
“However, as my future has become a distraction from the campaign I have concluded that I should stand down now, so the party can focus fully on issues about Scotland’s future.
“The election contest is being run by the national secretary and I have had no role in it at any point.”
He added: “I have worked for independence all my life and will continue to do so, albeit in a different capacity, until it is achieved – and I do firmly believe that independence is now closer than ever.”
Ms Sturgeon told Sky News: “He’s obviously taken responsibility for the recent issue with membership.
“He had intended to step down when there was a new leader, but I think he’s right to make that announcement today.”
She added: “Peter’s been a key part of the electoral success we have achieved in recent years and I know there will be a recognition of that across the party.”
Ms Forbes, Ash Regan, and Humza Yousaf are currently in the running to replace Ms Sturgeon as SNP leader and first minister.
Ms Regan said: “Eight years ago was the point where it was unacceptable to have the husband of the party leader as the CEO.
“I am encouraged to see the democratic foundations of the party now asserting their rightful function.”
Mr Yousaf, widely viewed as the favourite for the top job among the party hierarchy, said: “Peter Murrell has been an outstanding servant of the independence movement and the SNP.
“I agree with Peter that it is time for him to move on and make way for a new leader to appoint a new chief executive as passionate about the SNP and the cause of independence as he has been.
“With less than 10 days to go in this leadership contest, it is vital we all focus on the policies and vision we have for the party, movement and country.”
Meanwhile, the SNP’s political opponents highlighted that the party’s finances are still being investigated.
Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy MSP said: “A fish rots from the head down – and the same applies to the SNP.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “This latest resignation of a top SNP figure goes to show that the wheels have fallen off the SNP wagon.”