THE SNP's chief executive is facing fresh questions over his evidence to the Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair.

Peter Murrell told MSPs this week that the party’s 16-year-old conduct rules were “fairly robust” and had “stood the test of time”.

However the SNP official in charge of policing the rules admitted last month they were “overdue for reform”.

Then-National Secretary Angus MacLeod suggested the rules were out-of-date, given the SNP's membership surge in 2014 and the rise of social media usage, and said a "a re-evaluation of our disciplinary process" was needed.


He made the remarks in an internal SNP report, seen by the Herald, stating a review of other areas of disciplinary policy were “long overdue and would make the process work more effectively for all concerned.”

He also suggested work was underway to overhaul processes, but this had been derailed due to the Coronavirus crisis.

Mr Murrell, the SNP’s top unelected official since 2010 and Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, is already facing the prospect of a recall to the inquiry over other apparent "inconsistencies" in his evidence.

On Tuesday, he twice contradicted himself over a bombshell meeting between Mr Salmond and his wife at the couple’s Glasgow home in April 2018, when the former first minister told his successor he was being investigated by her officials over alleged sexual misconduct.

Mr Murrell initially said he hadn’t been aware the meeting was taking place, then later said he had been told a day in advance.

He also said he wasn’t at his house when it happened, then admitted he had come home from work to find it was still going on.

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He also said the meeting, and two more like it, had been about “government business”, whereas the First Minister told parliament she had the meetings as SNP leader.

As such, they were not recorded in her ministerial diary and no note-takers were present.

Opposition parties now want Mr Murrell recalled to clarify what they called a “shambolic” appearance and "sleekit answers".

The inquiry is looking at how the Scottish Government bungled a probe into claims of sexual misconduct made against Mr Salmond in 2018, leading to a court defeat and a £512,000 bill for his costs.

On Tuesday, Mr Murrell was asked about the SNP’s rules for dealing with conduct issues.

He said: “The rules in that form date back to 2004, I think. My recollection is that there was a committee established to rewrite the party’s constitution and rules, and there were many lawyers and other people who put ideas into that process.

“I say that they are fairly robust to this day, and have stood the test of time.”

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However in an email to SNP members just before he stood down as SNP National Secretary last month, Angus MacLeod said: “Every disciplinary complaint is considered in light of the code of conduct, by party officials and office bearers.

“As I have outlined, this code and the disciplinary rules are overdue for reform.”

He added: “Although the constitutional framework has been changed, the Member Conduct Standards and our Disciplinary Rules date from before the post-referendum surge and the dominance of social media.

“Whilst it is right that future reforms are consulted upon, the possibility of separating out the conduct and complaint framework, internal disputes, and mediation roles of the National Secretary from the more formal prosecution role seems long overdue and would make the process work more effectively for all concerned.”

Mr Murrell was asked by MSP Maureen Watt if there were any plans to revise the complaints process, to which Mr Murrell said: It will be looked at. We have been through a constitutional review in the interim, and the disciplinary rules have not changed, but that is not a fixed position."

He added that the new National Secretary "might take the view that the rules need to be updated", saying: "At any point, we could look at the rules and think that they need to be changed, sharpened up or whatever, so that is an option."

Mr Macleod, in his report, stated that the matter was 'pressing' and encouraged his successor, MSP Stewart Stevenson, to take up the issue.

He said: "The pandemic has impacted other reforms anticipated in the new constitution. Perhaps most pressingly, without wishing to bind the hands of my successor, the new constitution provides the framework for a re-evaluation of our disciplinary process."

HeraldScotland: SNP chief Peter Murrell before the committee

Mr Murrell also suggested this week that all complaints about members would go through the national secretary, either externally and then a report would be provided by the external body for the national sec to look at, or internally - directly to the national secretary himself.

When asked by SNP MSP Angela Constance how Mr Murrell would ensure people were “signposted” to the right place if they had a complaint, he said: “ From an SNP perspective, it is clear that the national secretary has the sole ability to send a complaint to the member conduct committee.

“If that was the route, we would ask someone to use the internal or external route for putting their experience or complaint into a summary report, which the national secretary would look at.”

However Mr Macleod said that ‘not every problem’ is for the National Secretary to look at when questioned by delegates at the party conference.

Mr Macleod made the remarks in response to a question by member about why it took "over 18 months to respond to a complaint made against a senior party member”

The former National Secretary: “Not every problem is one for the National Secretary to look at.

“Where issues are raised about a parliamentarian, then the Parliamentary Group may wish to look at those. As a potential candidate those issues can be taken into account by the Candidate Assessment Committee.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said the SNP chief's evidence was "all over the shop."

He said: "Every other sentence, he contradicted himself, contradicted the First Minister, got something wrong or blatantly said something untrue. It was one blunder after another.

“This latest unravelling of his story shows that he’s gone to great lengths to cover up the SNP’s failings.

“It’s now emerged he defended conduct rules that he surely must know are not fit for purpose, if he pays the slightest bit of attention to senior SNP staff.”

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Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour deputy added: "Peter Murrell’s evidence to the Committee was full of contradictions, but it seems he is making a habit of it now.

"Having told the Committee that the SNP disciplinary process was robust, he neglected to mention that his own party consider that it is in urgent need of reform. It increasingly looks like the SNP Chief Executive is out of touch with SNP members."

When contacted the SNP stressed that Mr Murrell had said the party's disciplinary processes "will be looked at" when speaking to the committee.

On the issue of complaints being handled by the National secretary, a spokesman added: "All member conduct complaints go to the national secretary.

"Angus was referring to complaints not breaching the code of conduct for members.

"That may be disputes in local branches, but all member conduct complaints must go to national secretary and only that post-holder presents the complaint to the disciplinary committee."