SNP chief executive Peter Murrell has been urged to apologise for “barefaced lies” and treating Scots with “contempt” about the party’s declining membership numbers.

The Scottish Tories said Mr Murrell, who is married to Nicola Sturgeon, should say sorry to a journalist whose accurate report of a 30,000 fall was trashed by the party’s spin machine.

On 12 February, the Sunday Mail’s John Ferguson reported up to 30,000 SNP members had quit over controversial gender reforms and a lack of progress on independence.

At the time, the most up-to-date figure for SNP members was 103,883, the number at 31 December 2021 given in the party’s annual accounts.

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The Sunday Mail story led to the SNP flatly denying a 30,000 drop.

A party spokesperson said at the time: “The 30,000 figure that was reported is not just flat wrong, it’s wrong by about 30,000. 

“As the SNP clearly stated when asked, fewer than 300 members have left the party over the period and they have been replaced by the same number of new members. 

“This story is both malicious and wholly inaccurate. Fortunately, few people are gullible enough to believe it.”

SNP media chief Murray Foote, a former Daily Record editor, also rubbished the story on Twitter, calling it “drivel” and repeating the official denial.

However, under pressure to be more transparent about who will vote in its leadership contest, the SNP yesterday revealed its membership was 72,186, or just over 30,000 down on the figure reported in the SNP’s accounts.

Tory MSP Russell Findlay, a former journalist, today wrote to Mr Murrell urging him to act against those who attacked the reporter and misled the public about membership numbers.

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He said: “Journalists across Scotland ask tough questions and provide a vital public service, but they have long been treated as the enemy by the SNP. 

“Alex Salmond declared war on the BBC yet took cash from Putin’s propaganda channel, Nicola Sturgeon routinely belittled journalists with personal attacks, and the SNP PR machine now resorts to barefaced lies. 

“Political spin is one thing, but the SNP’s wilful and arrogant peddling of misinformation to the public is in a different league altogether. 

“The SNP fish is rotting from the head and at the top of the party are Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon who clearly think it’s acceptable to treat Scots with such contempt. 

“If I was an SNP MSP or party member, I would be furious at this lack of integrity. They too have been deliberately deceived and must know this is completely unacceptable.” 

The SNP has been asked for comment.