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Sturgeon’s husband to be grilled by SNP over handling of Cambridge Analytica scandal

Exclusive by Andrew Whitaker

Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell

Exclusive

Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell

SNP chief executive Peter Murrell is facing a carpeting by SNP MPs over his handling of the party’s response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Murrell is to be summoned to Westminster, amid complaints that the SNP HQ in Edinburgh failed to respond quickly enough to the shock revelation that Cambridge Analytica (CA) met a party official to pitch for work.

Former CA director Brittany Kaiser told Westminster’s culture and media committee that the firm had tried to win work with the party, as she was questioned by SNP MP Brendan O’Hara.

READ MORE: Irony that SNP is batting off Cambridge Analytica probes when Scottish Government’s major weakness is data

The Sunday Herald has learned that SNP MPs sought immediate briefings from the party’s HQ about the claim as the hearing continued.

However, it is understood that by the time the party HQ replied to staff working for MPs, it was too late to respond effectively to Kaiser.

Sources said that SNP officials in Edinburgh failed to get in touch with their Westminster colleagues for several hours after Kaiser made the claim.

Party insiders said SNP MPs felt “let down” by the HQ, which Murrell has responsibility for as chief executive.

The prospect of Murrell being hauled before SNP MPs and grilled about his performance will be embarrassing for Nicola Sturgeon, who is married to the chief executive.

Senior SNP figures have previously suggested that Sturgeon‘s marriage to Murrell put his performance above criticism.

There have also been claims it means too much power is concentrated at the top of the party.

READ MORE: Irony that SNP is batting off Cambridge Analytica probes when Scottish Government’s major weakness is data

Last week, Sturgeon admitted at Holyrood that a consultant working for the SNP met Cambridge Analytica three months before the last Holyrood election.

She told MSPs at First Minister’s questions on Thursday that the meeting was held in February 2016.

Sturgeon refused to “name somebody who has done nothing wrong, who was working on behalf of the SNP, in order that a witch hunt can be carried out into that person”.

However, SNP MPs attending the party’s Westminster group meeting on Tuesday night, savaged the way the party in Edinburgh had responded to the revelations that emerged earlier that day.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford was asked by MPs to summon Murrell to the group to explain the late response.

A party insider at Westminster said: “When Peter Murrell comes these issues will be raised by MPs in a very robust way.”

The source added: “The feeling is that there was a crucial delay in the party HQ responding to MPs staff when Brittany Kaiser made the claim she did.

“There was enough of a delay to mean that by the time a rebuttal or response went out it was too late. The delay was for several hours.

“MPs have resolved that they can’t be placed in that situation again. Peter Murrell was going to speak to the group at Westminster anyway at some point, but now it’s been decided to ask for a date in the diary and Ian Blackford has spoken to him about arranging this as soon as possible.”

READ MORE: Irony that SNP is batting off Cambridge Analytica probes when Scottish Government’s major weakness is data

A separate party source added: “MPs were furious about how when they asked for a briefing about these revelations they were left waiting for so long for anyone to come back with any information. There’s a feeling that they were left exposed at best and hung out to dry at worst.

“It’s obviously bad management of a very difficult media story for the SNP. However, the chief executive has to take responsibility for how the party responded to our elected representatives at Westminster.”

SNP MPs have played a key role in the Westminster probe into the scandal surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, which centred on the mass harvesting of personal data and the manipulation of voting,

The SNP, when contacted about the criticism of Murrell, restated Sturgeon’s claim at Holyrood last week that the SNP and the Scottish Government had never worked with Cambridge Analytica.

Last night, an SNP spokesman: “The simple fact is that the SNP have never worked with or hired Cambridge Analytica or their associates – ?what this week has done is expose the utter hypocrisy of other parties on this. And the Tories and Labour still have to say whether they had any dealings with CA.”

READ MORE: Irony that SNP is batting off Cambridge Analytica probes when Scottish Government’s major weakness is data

Former SNP justice secretary Kenny MacAskill previously called for Murrell to be replaced as party chief executive in the wake of the party losing 21 seats in last year’s general election.

MacAskill said that Murrell being married to the SNP leader “must” affect his judgement as CEO.

Meanwhile, the UK’s information watchdog has seized material from Cambridge Analytica stored at a “secure data centre” in Scotland. The seizures are part of the Information Commissioner’s Office investigation into the use of personal data by political campaigns and social media companies.

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