An SNP leadership candidate has said that Nicola Sturgeon’s husband running the contest to replace her is a “conflict of interest”.

Party chief executive Peter Murrell, who married the First Minister in 2010, is ultimately in charge of the contest to crown a replacement for his wife.

Speaking as she officially launched her campaign, Ash Regan further distanced herself from the current leadership, saying the situation “where you’ve got a party leader who’s married to the chief executive of the party” was inappropriate.

Ash Regan
Ash Regan spoke as she was launching her campaign to become SNP leader (Jane Barlow/PA)

Asked if she believed Mr Murrell should stand down from his role within the party, which he has held since 1999, the Edinburgh Eastern MSP declined to do so.

“I think this situation that we’ve got ourselves into, where you’ve got a party leader who’s married to the chief executive of the party, I don’t think we would accept that in a corporate setting, I don’t think it’s appropriate,” she said.

“I think the fact that Peter Murrell is running this contest to replace Nicola Sturgeon is a clear conflict of interest.”

Asked if he should stand down, Ms Regan said: “I think it’s a conflict of interest, that’s my position on that.”

The statement further widens the split between Ms Regan and the top of the party after she resigned from government over opposition to gender reforms, going on to become a critic on the backbenches.

She did not go as far as her most high-profile backer, MP Joanna Cherry, who after the announcement that Ms Sturgeon would resign, called for Mr Murrell to do the same.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, who is running against Ms Regan for leadership of the SNP, told journalists on Friday that internal party reform was not out of the question but he stressed that Mr Murrell’s contribution to the party had been justified.

“I think there is a discussion to be had about internal reform and I’ll speak to that in the coming days and weeks,” he said.

“But Peter Murrell is an election winner and he has helped us win countless elections time and time again.”