The SNP’s new interim chief executive admits the party is in a “tremendous mess” – but he insists the leadership race should not be paused.
Michael Russell stepped into the top job following the resignation on Saturday of Peter Murrell, who had been in charge for two decades and is Nicola Sturgeon’s husband.
His departure followed that of SNP media chief Murray Foote, who left on Friday amid a row over the party’s membership numbers.
Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Show, Mr Russell was asked if the party was in turmoil.
He said: “I think it is fair to say there is a tremendous mess and we have to clear it up, and that is the task that I’m trying to take on in the short term.”
Mr Russell, who is the SNP president and previously served as constitution secretary and education secretary in the Scottish Government, also said he had not been aware of the party’s latest membership figures.
He said his “most important” job in the short term was to ensure there is a “fair electoral process that produces a clear, accepted outcome”.
SNP leadership race: ‘Not an edifying process’
The former Argyll and Bute MSP added: “This has not been an edifying process.
“There has not been a contested leadership in the SNP for 19 years and it shows.
“We’ve been out of practice at doing this, and what has happened has not been good for the party, and has not been good for Scotland, and we have to change it.”
Ash Regan, who is battling Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf to become the next SNP leader and first minister, is considering legal action to pause the race, according to The Herald.
The move comes amid concerns Mr Yousaf has been given an unfair advantage through the support of Ms Sturgeon’s close aide Liz Lloyd, who has since announced she is also resigning.
Mr Russell was asked if there was a case for pausing the process.
“No, I don’t believe there is a case, for a variety of reasons. I think the fact the other two candidates have openly declared their belief in the integrity of the process is very positive,” he said.
Kate Forbes ‘trusts the process’
Ms Forbes has previously questioned the integrity of the leadership contest, demanding an auditor oversee the process.
But on Sunday she told the BBC: “I have full confidence and trust in the process.
“The point I made around an independent auditor was to try and give as much trust and confidence to those that were voting.
“It’s a very standard, common practice, when it comes to election contests, for there to be that third-party, independent auditing.
“And I would hope that we would be able to get to the end of that contest knowing the decisions that SNP members are taking when they vote is the decision they truly want when it comes to the leadership of the party.”
Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said the leadership race had exposed a civil war within the SNP.
“It’s a measure of just how bad things have become when a senior party loyalist like Mike Russell describes it as ‘a tremendous mess’ and admits things have gone ‘spectacularly wrong’,” he said.
“The tragedy is that this affects the whole of Scotland, rather than merely the SNP. While they are hopelessly divided and fighting like Nats in a sack, they’re incapable of focusing on the real priorities of the Scottish people.”