Peter Murrell has resigned as chief executive of the SNP in the wake of a row over the disclosure of membership numbers.
The party’s communications director, Murray Foote, quit on Friday after being told “false information” over the number of people eligible to vote on the successor to Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood.
Murrell, who is the outgoing First Minister’s husband, has now followed suit after the party’s non-executive committee reportedly threatened him with a vote of no confidence.
Former CEO and current party president Michael Russell will take on his duties on an interim and voluntary basis.
In a letter issued to the party, Murrell said the responsibility of the disclosure of membership numbers “lies with him,” though added he had initially intended to step down after the vote.
He said there had been “no attempt to mislead” journalists who had previously asked for information on the voter base, but said his future had become “a distraction from the campaign”.
“Responsibility for the SNP’s responses to media queries about our membership number lies with me as chief executive,” he wrote.
“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.”
It comes after leadership candidates Kate Forbes and Ash Regan questioned the integrity of the ballot, which is due to close on March 27, alleging there was a “conflict of interest” over Murrell’s marriage to Sturgeon and his position overseeing the contest to replace her.
Humza Yousaf meanwhile pledged to “speak to [Peter] and see what his plans are for the future” if elected as Holyrood leader.
He also described the release of the membership numbers as an “own goal,” adding they should have been published at the start of the campaign.
But Murrell denied he had “any role in the election contest”.
“I am very proud of what has been achieved in my time as Chief Executive and of the part I have played in securing the electoral success the party has enjoyed over almost two decades,” he wrote.
“Fourteen national election wins is testament to the skills of the dedicated and talented HQ team that I have been privileged to lead. They give their all to the Party and the independence cause and I thank them for it.
“The election contest is being run by the National Secretary and I have had no role in it at any point.
“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.“
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.
Foote – a former editor of the Daily Record – resigned after the party wrongly claimed membership numbers were at around 100,000.
He described initial reports that membership had dropped as “drivel”, with the party saying in a separate story in the National that the “figure that was reported is not just flat wrong, it’s wrong by about 30,000”.
However, on Thursday, the party said membership as of February 15 of this year was 72,186 – having fallen from 103,884 in 2021.
The SNP previously said it would only release the information following the outcome of the leadership race later this month, however was pressured to do so earlier by all three candidates vying to become First Minister.