SNP MP condemns party over handling of chief executive’s ‘unacceptable’ texts

A senior SNP MP has criticised party bosses over their handling of what he claims were “entirely inappropriate” text messages said to have been sent by chief executive Peter Murrell, Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, concerning former first minister Alex Salmond.

Kenny MacAskill said the party has previously taken “swift” action against party members when there has been a “hint of inappropriate conduct”, but he claimed nothing has been done regarding Mr Murrell.

It comes after texts were made public which reportedly show Mr Murrell calling for pressure to be put on police investigating the former first minister.

Mr MacAskill, a former Scottish justice secretary who is now the MP for East Lothian, said the party’s ruling National Executive Committee had refused to discuss the issue when it met recently, “despite the pleas and demands of several members”.

Writing on the Wings Over Scotland website, Mr MacAskill said the SNP “have historically been swift to suspend any party members when there’s any hint of inappropriate conduct, never mind even a whiff of illegality”.

He added: “It’s been that way since 2015, with the axe falling on elected members as well as candidates in target seats and critical elections, and ordinary activists.

“So why then no action against the chief executive?”

In 2015, party bosses suspended then MP Michelle Thomson while police investigated property deals, although she denied any wrongdoing. Criminal proceedings were never brought, and in 2019 she rejoined the SNP.

Mr MacAskill added: “It’s over a week since revelations broke of WhatsApp messages sent by Peter Murrell to his chief operating officer purporting to encourage pressure be brought to bear on police in the Alex Salmond case.

“Now those things may or may not be criminal but it’s certainly conduct unbecoming of a party chief executive, raising questions about both him and his actions.

“After all, the SNP is the governing party and seeking to influence criminal investigations is simply unacceptable.”

In a separate piece for The Scotsman newspaper, Mr MacAskill, an ally of the former first minister, said he had been sent a document revealing the messages.

He claimed: “I received an anonymous letter through the post.

“There was neither name nor covering letter with it, simply a document that purported to be messages from the SNP chief executive to another senior staffer.

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond

“The terms suggested pressure be brought to bear on police investigating Alex Salmond.

“The terms of the messages are clear and the actions, even if not criminal, are entirely inappropriate.”

A Holyrood committee is currently investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of sexual harassment allegations made against Mr Salmond, and Mr MacAskill insisted the inquiry must be robust.

The committee was set up to investigate events after the Court of Session ruled the way the Scottish Government dealt with the allegations was “unlawful”.

Mr MacAskill said: “There’s still much more to come out and it’s for that reason that the parliamentary inquiry needs to be robust.”

Mr Murrell, Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond are all due to be called as witnesses by the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints.