Notable moments in the SNP leadership contest

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Nicola Sturgeon was always going to leave some big shoes to fill, but the SNP has already been finding the First Minister a hard act to follow.

The race for the SNP leadership has been a rocky affair, with dramatic resignations and acrimonious clashes between the candidates during live TV debates.

Even interim chief executive Mike Russell said, only a few days ago, that the party is in “a tremendous mess”.

Outgoing leader Ms Sturgeon has defended the situation, saying the SNP is going through “some growing pains” since she announced her decision to step down after more than eight years as party leader.

Peter Murrell
Peter Murrell stood down as the party’s chief executive amid a row over membership numbers (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Perhaps the most dramatic moment in the leadership campaign has been the resignation of Peter Murrell, who had served as SNP chief executive for almost 25 years – and is married to Ms Sturgeon.

He quit with immediate effect after the party initially rubbished reports that its membership had dropped by 30,000 – with the then-SNP head of communications Murray Foote dismissing the claims as “drivel”.

In an embarrassing U-turn, however, the party then admitted that as of February 15 this year, its membership was at 72,186 – down from 103,884 in 2021.

Mr Foote quit his SNP role, with Mr Murrell then resigning the following day.

Clashes between the leadership candidates have also made the headlines in recent weeks.

In a bad-tempered STV debate, Ms Forbes attacked Mr Yousaf, saying he would be a “continuity candidate” when the party desperately needs change.

Scottish National Party leadership election
The candidates ahead of the STV debate with host, STV political editor Colin Mackay (Kirsty Anderson/STV/PA)

“What makes you think you can do a better job as first minister?”

Her comments echoed Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie’s scathing remark that Mr Yousaf is “the worst Health Secretary on record” and is “without a doubt the worst minister I have ever had the misfortune of shadowing”.

Mr Yousaf and other senior party figures accused Ms Forbes of “trashing the SNP’s record” – but her polling improved.

Also taking the spotlight for perhaps not the best reason was Ms Regan, who has previously tweeted “this is the time for #Bravehearts, not Fainthearts” during her attempts to get ahead in the polls, when she said she would give Gary Lineker a “red card” following the BBC row over his refugee tweet.

He was temporarily removed as presenter of the BBC’s Match Of The Day show after criticising the UK Government’s asylum seeker policy.

Ms Regan, who admitted she had not even seen his tweet, backed him during a Channel 4 debate, saying “he should be allowed to express his views”.


Scottish National Party leadership election
Eating humble pie? SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf made a blunder while on a visit to a Ukrainian association in Edinburgh (Lesley Martin/PA)

Mr Yousaf, the favourite to replace Ms Sturgeon, made the blunder while visiting Ukrainian women in Edinburgh to discuss support for refugees in Scotland.

Elsewhere, Ms Forbes looked to be heading for a very early exit from the leadership contest when she opened up about her views on same-sex marriage in the first week of campaigning.

Ms Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, immediately lost some of her high-profile supporters after she said she would not have voted for gay marriage.

She also said having children outside of marriage “would be wrong according to my faith” and is something she would personally “seek to avoid”.

SNP deputy Westminster leader Mhairi Black said she had been “incredibly hurt” by the comments, with Deputy First Minister John Swinney saying he “profoundly” disagreed with them.

Supporters of Ms Forbes, however, said they admired her honesty – a virtue the party seems to have lost sight of, certainly in the last few days.

The leadership contest has sent the SNP’s poll ratings plunging.

The “tremendous mess”, however, has been to the delight of Labour and the Conservatives, who hope to gain seats in Scotland during the general election likely to happen next year.

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