Kate Forbes has reaffirmed her belief in the “integrity” of the SNP’s leadership election, though said decisions at the top of the party were taken by “too few people” in the wake of Peter Murrell’s resignation.
The finance secretary and fellow candidate Ash Regan both questioned the role of outgoing FM Nicola Sturgeon’s husband in overseeing the process to determine the new Holyrood leader.
Murrell stood down as chief executive of the party on Saturday after communications chief Murray Foote resigned a day earlier over the disclosure of incorrect membership numbers.
President Mike Russell has been parachuted in to ease the election race to its conclusion next Monday, but insisted he was only there to “steady the ship” and the future leadership of the party would be shaped by whoever came out on top in the vote.
In an interview with Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday show, which was recorded before Murrell’s resignation, she said she had confidence in the integrity of the election process.
Forbes said it was “the right time” for Murrell to quit, but said further democratic transparency was required to restore trust in the party.
She told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg: “I think at the heart of this is the fact that the decisions within the SNP have been taken by too few people.
“I think that’s well recognised across the political domain.
“SNP members want to know that our institution is democratic, that they can influence it, that they can shape policy.”
Earlier this week it emerged that the party had lost 30,000 members in just over a year.
Foote said that after speaking to the party’s HQ, he had issued responses to the media which had “serious issues” and he later decided there was a “serious impediment” to his role.
On Thursday the party said membership as of February 15 this year was 72,186, having fallen from 103,884 in 2021.
It corroborated a story in the Sunday Mail in February about the SNP losing 30,000 members, something Foote had strongly denied at the time.
The party disclosed the leadership election has been overseen throughout by Lorna Finn, the elected national secretary, while the issuing and counting of ballots is being conducted by independent polling firm Mi-Voice.
In his resignation letter, Murrell wrote he did not have “any role in the election contest”.
Russell, who previously served in the role as chief executive in the run up to the 1999 Scottish Parliament election, said two of the three candidates, Forbes and Humza Yousaf, had accepted the election was being fairly fought.
He told STV News conversations with Regan were “ongoing” to assuage any doubts she had over the process, but said the first job for the new Holyrood leader would be to “restore trust” with the Scottish public.
“I think we have to re-establish confidence and we have to re-establish trust,” he said.
“This is not just about the SNP. The SNP is presently the party of government in Scotland. There has to be a trust and this has not been an edifying process.
“I’ve been asked to essentially steady the ship. I’ve been talking to the candidates. I’m glad to see that two of the candidates have confirmed their belief in the integrity of the process.”
Yousaf meanwhile reasserted there was “no evidence” of the ballot being affected, adding the third-party firm used – independent polling company MiVoice – had been secured in previous votes.
“The important thing is, there is no credible or tangible evidence to suggest there is anything wrong with the integrity of the ballot,” he said.
“There has been a challenge with the release of membership numbers, I think I said that had been an own goal, but that is completely separate from the ballot process.
“I think it is really important that all candidates stand behind the ballot process.”