NICOLA Sturgeon’s husband is on the brink of losing his position as chief executive of the SNP, one of the party’s senior MPs has said.

Kenny MacAskill suggested Peter Murrell’s “days are numbered”, with personnel changes at SNP HQ “inevitable” after party members lost trust and respect for it.

Such change “can only be a good thing”, the East Lothian MP added.

Mr MacAskill said the impetus came from recent internal elections, which had been “a vote against the management of the party”.

He also accused the leadership of being “naive in the extreme” for believing Boris Johnson would grant a second independence referendum like the one in 2014.

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Despite SNP heavyweights such as Ian Blackford and Michael Russell saying Indyref2 could be in 2021, Mr MacAskill said the “Boris veto” over the vote and the tight timetable made it nigh impossible.

The former Justice Secretary levels the stinging criticisms in a new article for the Scottish Left Review published this weekend.

Until recently, Mr Murrell, who has been the SNP’s top official since 2000 and married MS Sturgeon in 2010, had almost no public profile despite his key role in the SNP’s electoral success and rise to power.

However he has been thrust into the spotlight by the Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair, and last month gave widely-criticised evidence to MSPs, repeatedly contradicting himself.

He was also forced to defend sending text messages to colleagues after Mr Salmond was charged with sexual assault in 2019, urging more police and prosecution action.

Mr Salmond was acquitted of all charges at trial last March.

Last month, SNP members voted against a series of leadership-backed candidates for the party’s ruling body and internal committees, installing activists who want reform, transparency and more time spent on independence and less time on gender rights.

Mr MacAskill said the results were a welcome “sea change” for the SNP, despite “leadership attack dogs” denouncing it as factionalism, a dig at Stirling MP Alyn Smith.

HeraldScotland: Kenny MacAskillKenny MacAskill

Mr MacAskill said: “The petulant reaction of some and the almost hysterical social media shrieking of others that followed the result also confirmed the leadership’s antipathy to the outcome.”

He said what united the new faces was “an opposition to a ‘woke’ faction perceived as having latched on to the SNP as well as a desire for a firmer push for independence.

“There was genuine anger within the party on policies that were moving the party to a position of concentrating on gender and identity issues, rather than country or even class.

“As well as policy changes, there could well be further personnel ones. For to all intents and purposes, it was also a vote against the management of the party.

“Trust in the party’s administrative machine has been eroding and much ire has been fixed upon the Chief Executive.

“As the party leader’s and, indeed First Minister’s spouse, many felt his position untenable when she acceded to those offices.

“Since then, respect for and faith in party HQ has been diminishing for a variety of reasons from election handling to membership disputes.

“As he now finds himself in the eye of the storm at the Salmond Inquiry, he may well find that for political staff, as with government ministers, when you yourself become the story then your days are numbered.

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“Whether by his departure or simply the greater scrutiny afforded by new office holders, changes at SNP HQ seem inevitable.

“With an election looming that can only be a good thing as a trust is essential and needs rebuilt.”

On policy, Mr MacAskill predicted the internal changes would see a divisive Bill to simplify gender recognition dropped, as “continuing the self-inflicted harm is frankly ludicrous”.

There would also be more focus on achieving independence in the face of Mr Johnson refusing to grant Holyrood referendum powers.

He said: “At the moment, the leadership position is that there’ll be a referendum in 2021. It’s a mantra chant that simply echoes what was shouted in 2020.

“Yet there was never any likelihood of a poll in Autumn 2020 even before coronavirus befell the globe. So long as the SNP policy requires the concession of a Section 30 Order by Johnson, then it’s difficult to see how that’s practically possible.

“Even if, as seems to be the hope of leadership loyalists, Johnson blinks after the May elections, then the practicalities of convening a new Scottish Government, agreeing terms with an existing British Government and, thereafter, getting the approval of the Electoral Commission for a campaign period - let alone poll - all mean that 2021 will be impossible.

“There is no evidence that Johnson will fold in a political poker game which would leave the SNP high and dry having granted him that absolute veto.

“But even if Johnson does concede one then, other problems arise so long as it’s the agreement of Westminster not just the will of the Scottish people that’s required.

“Perhaps, the Tories would feel that a snap poll would be best for them. Possible. More likely they’d seek to delay until what they would consider to be the optimum time for them - perhaps, 2023 or 2024.

HeraldScotland: Peter Murrell, Chief Executive, Scottish National PartyPeter Murrell, Chief Executive, Scottish National Party

“By which time a Scottish Government devoid of fiscal levers will be reaping the whirlwind of poverty and unemployment caused by a cocktail of austerity, Brexit and coronavirus.

“Moreover, besides timing, there’s no guarantee that conditions won’t be added that would undermine the independence campaign.

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“It could be as crass as 1979 (with the 40% rule amendment) or could be more subtle.

“Either way, assumptions by the SNP leadership that it’ll simply be a rerun of 2014 seem naïve in the extreme and ignore the history of the British state.”

He concluded: “The ‘old’ SNP is back and a new stage in the constitutional battle is coming.”

Asked about the comments on Mr Murrell’s future, an SNP spokesperson said: “With just over 100 days until polling, we’re 100% focussed on winning what is the most important election in Scotland’s history.”