THE SNP's leadership contest is in chaos this morning as the party's HQ faces demands to allow an independent auditor to oversee the vote. 

Kate Forbes' campaign team said there were "concerns" about the "integrity of the ballot process."

The criticism came just hours after beleaguered chief executive Peter Murrell was forced to back down in a secrecy row over membership numbers. 

All three of the hopefuls vying to replace Nicola Sturgeon had demanded the party boss reveal exactly how many people were getting a vote. 


Initially, yesterday, the party said details would only be shared at the "conclusion" of the election.  

However, they then said that a meeting of the ruling National Executive Committee would hold an unscheduled meeting today with a view to finally releasing the figures. 

There have been questions about the size of the party for some time now. The SNP used to regularly release member numbers. They had 125,000 at the end of 2019, but just over 100,000 at the end of 2021.

Media reports over the weekend suggested the numbers had fallen to 78,000.


In a staggering development, the lack of transparency around the numbers and the process itself prompted Michelle Thomson, the campaign manager for Kate Forbes, to release a statement questioning whether the party of government could be trusted to run its own internal election fairly.

She said: "Some concerns have been raised in various quarters about the integrity of the ballot process for the current SNP leadership contest.

"Some of these concerns are based on hearsay and are from back or are from bad faith actors. However, others are being openly expressed by individuals within the SNP of long standing.

"I have written two letters thus far to the National Secretary regarding the ballot process. I have not yet had a response."

She said it was wrong to suggest that Mi-Voice, the third party company operating the ballot process was a independent of the party. 

"They are simply a company contracted by the SNP to provide services to their client's specification," she said. 

"The SNP themselves remain ultimately accountable and responsible for many of the processes oversight and ultimate integrity of the ballot. The fact that questions are being asked can only further undermine trust in SNP HQ.

"This is not a position I wish to see. We all agree that the party must unify around any newly elected leader.

"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. That should be done without delay."

There was anger from some in the party about the letter from the Forbes' campaign. 

MP Gavin Newlands described it as "Trumpian nonsense." 

"The vote is being carried out by a highly regarded and independent 3rd party," he tweeted. "Quite frankly, this is just #fakenews crap. I thought better of Kate's camp."

Ms Thomson's statement came just hours after Ash Regan published an open letter calling for more information on the ballot.

READ MORE: Ash Regan and Kate Forbes call for transparency from Peter Murrell

In the letter, Ms Regan – writing on behalf of both her and Ms Forbes – said Mr Murrell had a responsibility “to ensure that the leadership election process is transparent, fair, and equitable.”

She said knowing how many people were eligible to vote, and knowing how many ballots had been sent out electronically and by post, was “crucial to fostering trust and confidence among the candidates, their campaign teams, and party members. 

The former community safety minister said the two teams had previously reached out to the national secretary, Lorna Finn, with a request for this information. 

The lack of response meant they felt the need to “address this matter through a formal open letter”.

Following the publication of the open letter, Neil Gray, the campaign manager for Humza Yousaf, said the Health Secretary’s campaign team had “also asked for the figures to be published and sought assurances this would be done as soon as possible”.

He said the minister had asked for the information on Tuesday.

The SNP released a brief and terse response to the letter from Ms Forbes and Ms Regan.

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

The party added that the number of votes, percentage share, and turnout would all be published at the “conclusion” of the contest. 

That position held for less than an hour. 

It is the second time the party has been forced into a U-turn during the election.

Initially, they banned press from watching the hustings. They even refused to stream the events online for members, despite the small venues selling out promptly.

They backtracked after the Forbes, Regan and Yousaf campaigns called for a rethink.

Ms Regan has previously suggested there is “a conflict of interest” in having Mr Murrell oversee the process.

“Effectively he’s running the contest to replace his wife. That would be like Carrie [Johnson] counting the votes for Boris’s successor, and I think many people would think that would be fairly unusual. I think there is a conflict of interest here,” she told Sky News

READ MORE: Sunak quotes Forbes's SNP leadership race attack on Yousaf at PMQs

Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy said the letter from Ms Forbes and Ms Regan exposed how “bitter the SNP leadership contest has now become”.

He added: “The fact that two of the three candidates seeking to replace Nicola Sturgeon are openly questioning their party’s internal election process is utterly astonishing and reveals the deep levels of mistrust within the SNP.

“Not only do the candidates deserve full transparency – but so do the Scottish public, given that whoever wins will be First Minister, as well as SNP leader,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Sun yesterday revealed that Ms Sturgeon’s closest aide is working on the Yousaf campaign. 

The paper quoted an insider who said special adviser Liz Lloyd “is putting Nicola’s wishes into practice”.


“Liz is keeping out of the public eye – she’s not likely to be seen at Humza’s media calls, for example, but she is providing advice.”

Another source said: “SNP HQ is panicking about Kate winning. This is more evidence of that.”

Ms Lloyd was Ms Sturgeon’s chief of staff between 2015 and 2021, before becoming her strategic policy and political adviser in August 2021.

According to the paper, Ms Lloyd has been working for the government at the same time as helping with Mr Yousaf’s campaign. That is allowed under the rules as long as an adviser is doing this in their own time.