THE SNP leadership contest is descending into “paranoia, mistrust and hatred”, the Scottish Tories have claimed, after fresh warnings about it being rigged.

Former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil, a supporter of Kate Forbes, today said there must be “no more deceit” about the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon.

He said the party “must stop any chance of the election being rigged” after hopeful Ash Regan said it should not be run by Ms Sturgeon’s husband, SNP boss Peter Murrell.

Speaking on Sky News yesterday, Ms Regan said there was “a conflict of interest” in having Mr Murrell, the party’s chief executive, oversee the process.

She said: “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.

“We think it should be an independent third party company running the contest, and we’ve also asked for there to be a neutral observer, just to make sure everything is above board.”

Promoting a clip of Ms Regan making her point on social media, Mr Neil added: “The party MUST stop any chance of the election being rigged. Keep an eye out for past members, lapsed members having their votes cast for them. 

“Also the party members are entitled to know exactly how many people are entitled to vote in this election. No more deceit.”



It was reported in the Scottish Mail on Sunday that the SNP membership being balloted may have fallen as low as 78,000, almost 50,000 below its post-referendum peak.

Scottish Tory chair  Craig Hoy said: “The degree of paranoia, mistrust and hatred within the SNP is so great that we now have supporters of two of the three leadership candidates openly speculating that this election is being rigged.

“We’re used to hearing these sorts of accusations being made by opposition parties in third world nations with despotic leaders, where the United Nations sends in election observers. 

“That they are being made by SNP members about an internal party election is quite astonishing.

“Ash Regan’s team first raised fears that dead or lapsed SNP members’ ballots might be cast for them, and now Alex Neil – a prominent backer of one of the frontrunners, Kate Forbes – is doing the same. 

“It’s now beyond doubt that the SNP is in a state of deep civil war.

“Whether these incendiary claims have any validity or are merely wild conspiracy theories, the SNP must be open and transparent about the election procedure and the number of members entitled to vote, so that those members – and the Scottish public – have confidence in the integrity of the process to elect Scotland’s next First Minister.”

The ballot in the leadership opened today, with members sent emails and voting links, and will run until March 27.

Mr Yousaf, the health secretary, appears to be in the lead, and has the backing of most of the party's declared MPs and MSPs.

Ms Forbes, the finance secretary, is his main challenger, with former minister Ms Regan seen as the underdog.

An SNP spokesperson said: “All the necessary safeguards are in place to protect the integrity of the ballot.”