The SNP leadership hopeful said he had known the former chief executive for many years and “he is never somebody that I know that has ever intentionally misled or lied.”
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Mr Murrell – the husband of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – stepped down with immediate effect on Saturday.
It came just hours after we reported that members of the party’s ruling NEC had told him to resign by the end of the day or face a vote of no confidence.
His resignation followed that of the party’s head of communications, Murray Foote, who left on Friday, saying HQ had given him false information about membership figures to feed to the media.
In February, the Sunday Mail claimed the membership had slumped by 30,000 since 2021. At the time, the story was described as “drivel” by Mr Foote.
However, on Thursday, the party revealed the total number of members eligible to vote was 72,186.
The last publicly available figure showed that at the end of 2021 the party had 103,884 signed-up members.
At their peak in 2019, they had 125,691 members.
The release of the figures only came after pressure was put on party HQ by all three of the hopefuls vying to replace Ms Sturgeon.
In a statement issued on Saturday, Mr Murrell said: “Responsibility for the SNP’s responses to media queries about our membership number lies with me as chief executive. While there was no intent to mislead, I accept that this has been the outcome.”
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Asked about the row during a campaign stop at the Gurdwara Guru Granth Sahib in Glasgow’s southside, Mr Yousaf: “It’s more cock up than conspiracy if I’m honest. I know Peter. I’ve known him for many years and he is never somebody that I know that has ever intentionally misled or lied.
“He is a good person who has now done the honourable thing because of course the outcome was that the press was not given the true facts on the membership.
“He has done the honourable thing. But let’s not take away from the fact that Peter has been an exceptional servant of the SNP.”
Mr Yousaf said the membership figures should have been released at the start of the contest.
The Health Secretary said one of his “internal priorities” for the party was “really making sure that we are as transparent as possible and that actually we’re communicating with not just the hierarchy of the party… but the membership more broadly.”
Mr Yousaf told The Herald he didn’t know why so many people had left the SNP.
“I suspect there’ll be a number of reasons. One thing I’ve noticed is quite a lot of members wanting to rejoin. They found that their membership has lapsed, and that’ll be part of it.
“I don’t doubt that there’s issues such as, for example, the fact we’ve been talking about process on independence as opposed to policy for too long, that may well have impacted on that.
“I’ve heard some people of course suggest that it’s perhaps to do with [Gender Recognition Reform] but I equally know many people who joined the party because of that issue and the stance that we’ve taken.
“So these are these are issues we have to get to the bottom of that. Certainly, I would want to get to the bottom of that as leader of the SNP because I want to make sure we’re a party that’s growing and not reducing in number.”
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He accepted that he had some responsibility for the plunging numbers.
“I suspect all of us within the party, particularly those at senior levels will have to reflect really hard on why that’s happened. I don’t know the reasons why people have left and if I am the leader of the SNP, one of the first things I want to do is try to understand, try to reach out to those members that might have left us to see if I can get them back.
“Because I’m in the habit of growing our party as opposed to want to see it reduced any further.”
He said there was no reason for the contest to be paused: “I’ve not seen any credible or tangible evidence whatsoever that there’s anything wrong with the integrity of the ballot.”
Addressing the congregation in the Gurdwara, Mr Yousaf asked them to keep him in their prayers.
“I take prayers wherever I can get them from. This job can sometimes be quite difficult. So I hope you can give me your thoughts and your prayers,” he said.
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