The SNP’s head of communications has resigned after reports about membership figures which the party denied turned out to be true.
The Sunday Mail reported last month that the SNP’s membership had dropped by 30,000 since 2021, a story corroborated this week when the party revealed its membership under pressure from leadership candidates.
In response to the initial story, Murray Foote – the party’s head of communications – described it as “drivel”, with the party saying in a separate story in the National that the “figure that was reported is not just flat wrong, it’s wrong by about 30,000”.
On Thursday, the party said membership as of February 15 of this year was 72,186, having fallen from 103,884 in 2021.
In a statement released on Friday evening, the former editor of the Daily Record appeared to admit he signed off the statement rubbishing the original story.
“Acting in good faith and as a courtesy to colleagues at party HQ, I issued agreed party responses to media inquiries regarding membership,” he said.
“It has subsequently become apparent there are serious issues with these responses.
“Consequently, I concluded this created a serious impediment to my role and I resigned my position with the SNP group at Holyrood.”
It is not clear if Mr Foote was provided with the wrong membership data that led to the response.
Scottish Tory MSP Russell Findlay, a former journalist, said Mr Foote was being used as a “fall guy”.
“Murray Foote was giving out information he had been told, which was false,” he said.
“He didn’t lie. The SNP lied.
“The problem is not a press officer. The problem is the rotten SNP leadership who deliberately lied to the press and public.
“We wish our best to Mr Foote, who was clearly told false information and is the fall guy for the SNP hierarchy.”
An SNP spokesman said Mr Foote had been an “outstanding head of press for the Holyrood group” who had “acted entirely in good faith throughout”.
“The party was asked a specific question about loss of members as a direct result of the GRR (Gender Recognition Reform) Bill and Indyref2. The answer given was intended to make clear that these two reasons had not been the cause of significant numbers of members leaving,” the spokesman said.
“The membership figure is normally produced annually and is not produced in response to individual media queries, including in this instance.
“In retrospect, however, we should not have relied on an understanding of people’s reasons for leaving as the basis of the information given to Murray and, thereafter, the media.
“A new, modernised membership system is currently being developed for the party.”
Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s Health Secretary and one of three candidates vying to replace Nicola Sturgeon as the next party leader, said Mr Foote “has been outstanding since joining the SNP media team” and that he would be “sorely missed”.
“Reform of our HQ operations has been a key part of my campaign. With fresh party leadership should come a fresh approach to our HQ operation,” he said.