Just who is pulling the strings in SNP race? One of Nicola Sturgeon’s closest aides tried to force Kate Forbes to ditch her leadership bid, allies claim
Nicola Sturgeon’s closest aide tried to persuade Kate Forbes to drop out of the race to be the next SNP leader, it has been claimed.
Liz Lloyd, who is reported to have been helping rival candidate Humza Yousaf with his campaign, is alleged to have urged Ms Forbes not to enter the contest.
The bitter battle to succeed Ms Sturgeon has been blighted by claims of SNP secrecy and fears the party’s hierarchy has attempted to influence the outcome.
The campaign team of candidate Ash Regan raised concerns with Scotland’s top civil servant about Ms Lloyd’s involvement in Mr Yousaf’s campaign.
She questioned whether this was a breach of strict rules for taxpayer-funded special advisers.
Just hours after the meeting, Ms Lloyd announced she would quit government at the same time as long-term ally Ms Sturgeon quits.
Nicola Sturgeon’s closest aide tried to persuade Kate Forbes (pictured) to drop out of the race to be the next SNP leader, it has been claimed
Liz Lloyd, who is reported to have been helping rival candidate Humza Yousaf (pictured) with his campaign, is alleged to have urged Ms Forbes not to enter the contest
Sources close to Ms Forbes now claim Ms Sturgeon’s £100,000-a-year adviser spoke to Ms Forbes and told her that she should not stand for the party leadership position because she would have little support.
It has also been suggested that Ms Forbes was told that the Cabinet has ‘used her for her brains’, according to multiple sources close to the situation.
The conversation, which it is alleged took place in the wake of the First Minister’s resignation, is understood to have made Ms Forbes more determined to launch a bid for the SNP leadership.
However, it is understood that Ms Lloyd – Ms Sturgeon’s chief of staff for six years – denies that she tried to warn Finance Secretary Ms Forbes against standing.
The news comes as:
- Ms Forbes made a last-ditch appeal to SNP members on the penultimate day of voting in the leadership battle;
- Bookmaker Ladbrokes revealed that more people are placing bets on Ms Forbes than her two rivals;
- Opposition politicians warned that none of the contenders are competent enough to ‘pick up the pieces of Nicola Sturgeon’s woeful record’.
Sources close to Ms Lloyd said: ‘These so-called friends are doing a disservice to Kate and clearly aren’t speaking for her.
‘Before announcing her candidacy Kate asked Liz, as a friend, for her honest view on the issues she would face if she stood.
The bitter battle to succeed Ms Sturgeon has been blighted by claims of SNP secrecy and fears the party’s hierarchy has attempted to influence the outcome
Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan taking part in the SNP leadership hustings at the Town Hall in Johnstone, Scotland
‘Liz knows Kate well enough to know that she knows her own mind and would make her own decision and made no attempt to dissuade her from standing.
‘Claims that she did so are categorically untrue.’ However, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Jackie Baillie, has called for an investigation by Scotland’s top civil servant, Permanent Secretary John-Paul Marks.
She said: ‘Not for the first time this story raises questions about the role of Nicola Sturgeon’s special advisers who are, after all, paid civil servants. There needs to be an investigation by the Permanent Secretary to see if the code for special advisers is being breached.’
Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy said: ‘Whatever the outcome of the SNP’s bitter leadership contest, questions will remain over the not-so-subtle perception that Humza Yousaf was the preferred candidate of the outgoing regime.’
Ms Lloyd was chief of staff from 2015 before a new role was created for her in 2021 as Ms Sturgeon’s ‘strategic policy and political adviser’, for which she was paid between £90,565 to £108,062 a year.
The departing First Minister has refused to endorse a candidate as her preferred successor but the involvement of her right-hand woman in Mr Yousaf’s campaign fuelled speculation that the party machine is working on his behalf.
A Scottish Government statement said: ‘In line with the special adviser code of conduct, special advisers are permitted to assist with party leadership elections, in their own time, while still employed by the Government.’ Ms Lloyd announced her resignation within 24 hours of senior SNP staffers chief executive Peter Murrell – Ms Sturgeon’s husband – and top spin doctor Murray Foote quitting after it was revealed that the party had lied about the declining number of members.
Ms Lloyd tweeted: ‘As Nicola Sturgeon’s chief of staff and strategic adviser over the last eight years it has always been my intention to leave government when she does. It has been the biggest honour of my life to work with the First Minister and to have had a unique opportunity to serve the people of Scotland.’
In response, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘Liz has been by my side throughout my time as FM.
‘Her advice, support, perspective, humour and sheer hard work has been indispensable to me. She is brilliant and I know she’ll go on to do great things. Thank you, Liz.’
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