Nigerian politicians aren’t the only ones voicing fears over a rigged elections this month – these same concerns are coming to the fore much closer to home, all thanks to the SNP’s opaque headquarters. 

In the latest development, SNP leadership hopeful Kate Forbes is demanding that her party brings in an independent watchdog to oversee the leadership vote, as the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon remains mired in secrecy. 

Forbes’ campaign has issued a statement, raising concern over “the integrity of the ballot processes for the current SNP leadership contest,” and calling on the party’s HQ to appoint a “robust, experienced, third-party auditor of both the ballot processes and the eventual tally of the vote..without delay.”

The Finance Secretary’s demand hardly inspires confidence in the workings of her own party. That said, her mistrust is understandable. The lack of transparency at the Nats’ head office – which just so happens to be run by Sturgeon’s husband – is striking.

As The Hound reported yesterday, the SNP HQ is refusing to reveal the number of party members who will effectively vote in the next First Minister. Even the three candidates have been kept in the dark about how many ballots have been sent out. An unimpressed Kate Forbes and Ash Regan have both called on SNP chief executive, Peter Murrell, to release this information “as soon as possible”.

Revealing these numbers, Regan insisted, is “crucial to fostering trust and confidence among the candidates, their campaign teams and the party members”. She also pointed out that Murrell’s role in the whole affair is a bit like Boris Johnson’s wife Carrie “counting the votes” for his successor. (Holyrood sleaze much?). And, while polls indicate Forbes and Yousaf are pretty much neck and neck in the contest, Yousaf is backed by the current Sturgeon regime, meaning the outgoing First Minister’s husband is hardly a neutral bystander. 

The SNP has hired an external company called Mi-Voice to help operate the ballot. But this third party company isn’t exactly independent. Indeed, as Forbes points out, Mi-Voice is “simply a company contracted by the SNP to provide services to their client’s specification” and the SNP itself “remains ultimately accountable and responsible for many of the processes, oversight and ultimate integrity of the ballot”. 

As for why the party is so reluctant to reveal exactly how many Scots will be taking part in the vote, this may well be an attempt to conceal a big drop in party members. 

Before the 2014 independence vote, the SNP had 25,000 members. Following the referendum, membership soared, reaching over 125,500 by the end of 2018 – an impressive figure when we consider that the Conservatives have 170,000 members in the whole of the UK, which easily contains ten times as many voters.

However, data from the 2021 party accounts later revealed that the SNP lost almost a fifth of its members in the space of just two years, with the figure dropping to around 100,000 by the end of 2021. And, more recently, the party had to dispute claims that 30,000 members left the party over the Scottish Government’s gender reform bill.

Now, the Mail on Sunday is reporting that Southampton-based polling firm Mi-Voice has been given the names of just 78,000 members by the SNP. If this report is confirmed, it would suggest that the party has lost nearly 50,000 members over the past four years. 

It’s hardly surprising it wants to keep those figures under wraps. Then again, if members lose trust in the integrity of their own party’s ballot, the SNP is likely to lose a few more. 

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