SNP leadership candidates pile pressure on the party over lack of transparency in ballot


All three candidates in the SNP leadership election are piling pressure on the party to be more transparent over the ballot process.

Sky News understands the party’s national executive committee will meet on Thursday morning amid the row. It’s likely this could lead to membership figures being released.

Michelle Thomson MSP, who is working to get Kate Forbes elected as Nicola Sturgeon’s successor, said a third party company brought in to work on the election is neither independent nor in charge of the whole process.

“The SNP themselves remain ultimately accountable and responsible for many of the processes, oversight and ultimate integrity of the ballot,” Ms Thomson said in a statement.

“The fact that questions are being asked can only further undermine trust in SNP HQ.”

The party at first refused to meet demands from all three candidates vying to replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s first minister to publish the number of eligible voters.

Figures from the Electoral Commission show that in December 2021, the SNP had around 104,000 members.

However, there are uncertainties over the exact size of the electorate after the Mail on Sunday reported that only 78,000 online forms were being sent out.

In her letter, Ms Thomson added: “I have asked that the SNP appoint a robust, experienced, third-party auditor of both the ballot processes and the eventual tally of the vote. This third party must have full oversight of all membership numbers, data and processes.

“This should be done without delay.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan joined calls from Humza Yousaf for greater transparency from Peter Murrell, the SNP’s chief executive and the husband of Ms Sturgeon.

In an open letter to party chiefs, both Ms Regan and Finance Secretary Ms Forbes called for the SNP to reveal the number of paid-up party members, as well as the number of digital voting documents and postal voting papers issued.

It comes as candidates have reportedly been advised that the number of votes, percentage share and turnout will only be published at the conclusion of the election.

The letter states: “We request that you provide essential information pertaining to the current membership status and voting procedures within the SNP, which is necessary for ensuring a fair and transparent leadership election.”

“We have previously reached out to the national secretary, Lorna Finn, with a request for this information.

“However, we have yet to receive a response, which has prompted us to address this matter through a formal open letter.”

The team representing Mr Yousaf said they made similar representations on Tuesday.

Former community safety minister Ms Regan and Ms Forbes state it is Mr Murrell’s responsibility to ensure the election process is “transparent, fair, and equitable”.

They added: “Your cooperation in this matter will not only demonstrate the SNP’s commitment to democratic values and principles but also help maintain a strong and united party during this leadership contest.”

An adviser to Ash Regan told Sky News: “If we do not receive a satisfactory response addressing our legitimate request for information by 3pm on Thursday, 16 March, Ms Regan will hold a press conference outside [the Scottish]parliament to address this matter further.”

An SNP spokesperson said: “Candidates have already been made aware that responsibility for the leadership election does not rest with any member of staff.”

Voting in the SNP leadership election, which is using the single transferable vote system, opened on Monday with the winner to be announced on 27 March.