Frontrunners and Sturgeon remain confident of leadership election process
The two frontrunners to replace Nicola Sturgeon, and the First Minister herself, have said the SNP leadership contest does not have to be restarted.
Calls had been made to restart the process after the resignation of chief executive Peter Murrell, Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, at the weekend, following a row over the party’s membership numbers.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (RSA) in London on Monday, the First Minister said she had confidence in the process.
Asked if she should be First Minister for longer to allow the process to restart, she joked: “God no.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “I have absolute confidence in the process of electing my successor.”
The two leading candidates to replace the First Minister: Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf, have also given their backing to the process.
Asked whether the contest should be started afresh, Mr Yousaf told the PA news agency: “No. It’s clear that all three candidates have now said that they have faith in the integrity and all three candidates will respect the outcome of the ballot.
“I’m pleased the other candidates have agreed with my position which I’ve had from the beginning which is that the integrity of the ballot is not in question.”
Kate Forbes said on BBC Radio Scotland on Monday she was “very confident” in the process.
“I think that we’re at a place now where we need to get to the end over the next week,” she said.
“I obviously strongly believe that the events over the last few days which have, of course, hurt and, I think, bemused a lot of SNP members, not least myself, have confirmed my calls from the very beginning of the contest which is that we need change in the SNP, we need change in Government and that change needs to be based on some very fundamental principles of honesty, competence, transparency.”
She added: “I’ve said from the very outset that continuity won’t cut it, that the status quo wasn’t good enough and that we couldn’t just continue to go on as we were going on if we wanted different results.
“And that’s not just about policy, it’s also about the delivery of those policies and the culture that accompanies it.”
But fellow candidate Ash Regan has issued a plea to allow people to change or update their vote if it has already been cast.
I think that we’re at a place now where we need to get to the end over the next week
Ms Regan issued a public plea to SNP HQ to allow members to update or change the vote.
In a statement published on Twitter, she said her campaign emails had seen a “surge” from concerned SNP members on whether the ballot will go ahead unaltered.
She wrote: “In 2015 selection contests for Westminster candidatures had varying end dates. In some cases, candidates were removed from the ballot before a race ended, where this happened members were able to update their vote.”
In a statement on Monday, acting chief executive Mike Russell, who stepped in after Peter Murrell quit, said: “On the specific issues raised today, it would clearly be massively disruptive and confusing for members to be able to recall their ballot – something that is not done in any public election and which cyber security experts have advised, most recently to the Conservatives when they considered an online ability to change a vote, could be subject to hacking attempts.
“Moreover, the precedent cited by one of the candidates does not provide any sort of comparison, and potentially exists only where a candidate had withdrawn, or been removed, from a contest.”
Ms Regan also called for candidates to be able to send one email to each member using the party’s database, something dismissed by the acting chief executive who said it was “frankly, very unlikely that any member could be unaware of the vital matters at stake, the key issues that impact on our country and the party, and the candidates’ views on them”.
Responding to the news on Twitter, Ms Regan said: “There was an amendment to the normal established timeline as detailed in the SNP constitution for a leadership election – creating an inappropriately short time frame for this selection contest.
“I do not believe the NEC have had the opportunity to review my proposal fully – nor do I understand the problem with allowing members to change their mind, given the revelations of the weekend.”
Ms Regan said members “deserve the process of this election to be the start of transparency and demonstrable probity”, calling for them to “demonstrate their will with SNP HQ”.
The wrangle comes at the end of a weekend which saw the resignation of two of the party’s most senior members of staff in Mr Murrell and communications chief Murray Foote, which Mr Russell described on Sunday as a “tremendous mess”.
On Thursday, the party released its membership figures after pressure from the three candidates, showing a drop of 30,000 since the last published numbers.
The drop confirmed a story from the Sunday Mail newspaper in February that the SNP press office attempted to discredit.
In response to the story being vindicated, Mr Foote resigned, claiming he had “issued agreed party responses” to the media query.
The following day, Mr Murrell announced he was quitting, saying that “while there was no intent to mislead, I accept that this has been the outcome”.
The First Minister, while stressing that she would not be endorsing any candidate, warned her successor on Monday against “throwing the baby out with the bath water”.
“Striking the balance between change on the one hand and protecting the essential ingredients of our success on the other is quite tricky,” she said.
“We need to take care not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
“All of that calls for a balanced and nuanced debate and yet the nature of modern media, social media in particular, can make that more difficult than it should be.
“I am firmly of the view my party will emerge from this process in a strong position.”
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