Murray Foote has his work cut out for him as the SNP’s new chief executive.

His appointment was announced a few hours after a poll predicted the party would tie with Labour on seats at the general election, ending the SNP’s epic run of ballot box wins.

A likely defeat also looms in the Rutherglen & Hamilton West by-election in October.

But as one of his contemporaries observes, Mr Foote is not merely a respected journalist, he is also, and more importantly in politics, a “wily old fox”.

A proud Dundonian, he worked for papers in his home city, in Aberdeen and for the Herald’s sister paper, the Glasgow Evening Times, before joining the Daily Record in 1991.

He worked at the Labour-supporting tabloid for 23 years before finally becoming its editor in early 2014, when the independence referendum was in full swing.

Although he now says he was always sympathetic to the Yes cause, you would have been hard pressed to detect any sign of it in the paper’s coverage. 

The Herald: Murray Foote and the Vow

Indeed, it was Mr Foote who was behind one of the biggest interventions in the campaign on behalf of the Union.

On the final weekend before the nation cast its vote, a Sunday Times poll put Yes narrowly ahead for the first time, causing panic in the No camp.

Mr Foote and Gordon Brown, an old friend of the Record, duly rustled up “The Vow” and put it on the front page two days before September 18.

Intended to offer No voters something more than just the status quo, it promised but “extensive new powers” for Holyrood if Scotland remained in the Union.  

It also declared Holyrood was permanent and would have the final say on NHS spending.

It was signed by Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, his Liberal Democrat deputy PM Nick Clegg and then Labour leader Ed Miliband.

“A No vote will deliver faster, safer and better change than separation,” it concluded.

In truth, it wasn’t that dazzling, but Alex Salmond, never one to embrace blame, credited it with swaying public opinion against independence. It was The Vow what done it.  

Pollsters say its influence has been hugely over-rated.

Nevertheless, it has been an object of loathing and derision in Yes circles ever since, where the fact extensive new powers on tax and welfare were delivered is overlooked. 

Despite his infamous red white and blue offspring, Mr Foote announced in 2018, after retiring as Record editor, that he was in fact a supporter of independence.

READ MORE: Murray Foote, who called SNP police probe 'grotesque', is party boss

In February 2020, the wily one then joined the SNP as its head of communications and research at Holyrood, his Vow making days apparently forgiven and forgotten.

Speaking to the Herald at the time, he said: “I have always been sympathetic to the cause.

“Anybody who knows me knows - this does not come as a surprise to them.”

Asked about the Vow, he said: “I had a job to do. My job was to represent the views of the readership of the Daily Record. 

“That was what I did to the best of my ability, regardless of my political persuasion.”

Despite a gregarious, larger-than-life persona in newspapers, Mr Foote rather melted into the background at Holyrood, keeping his head down in an effort to avoid becoming the story.

He made news regardless during the SNP’s fractious leadership contest, when the party hierarchy tried to suppress the fact they had lost 30,000 of their 100,000 members.

The day after SNP HQ admitted the truth, Mr Foote resigned after unwittingly misleading journalists about the numbers after he was himself misled by his erstwhile colleagues.

It proved the catalyst for Peter Murrell to quit as chief executive the following day.

Mr Foote can savour his revenge as he slides his feet under Mr Murrell’s desk on Monday. 

But any satisfaction won’t last long. After two decades running the day-to-day operations of the SNP, Mr Murrell is a hard act to follow.

He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of campaigning and electoral law. He also had a proven winner in Nicola Sturgeon promoting the cause. His successor has neither.

Mr Foote has many talents, but with a one-in-a generation election barrelling towards the SNP, they may not be exactly the ones the party needs.

READ MORE: Poll shows Labour could pick up 24 seats, says Curtice

He also has the police investigation into the party’s finances to deal with, a challenge made harder by his publicly expressing hostility to the way detectives have gone about their job. 

As well as calling the tactics “grotesque”, he predicted there would be no charges brought.

Mr Murrell, who stayed in the shadows, would never have created such a hostage to fortune.

Mr Foote, for all his guile, is about to be put through the wringer.