SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf has hit out at “baseless smears” as his opponents raised concerns about the integrity of the election.

The campaigns of Kate Forbes and Ash Regan have called for independent auditors to be brought in to offer assurances to SNP members and the public.

But Mr Yousaf – widely viewed as the favourite for the top job among the party hierarchy – has said he has confidence in the election process.

He tweeted on Thursday: “I have confidence in the process that uses an external third party company, a process we have used for many years.

“I am up for challenge & reform of the party, but let’s not indulge in baseless smears.”

The Scottish Health Secretary’s comments came in response to SNP president Mike Russell, who backed the election process and claimed aspersions being cast “aid our enemies”.

Mr Russell said on Twitter he has “full confidence” in the “external verification” process and election count.

He added: “I am disgusted by the abuse directed at @theSNP staff by individuals who damage our cause & aid our enemies.”

Michelle Thomson – who is running the Forbes campaign – said some concerns are “based on hearsay or are from bad faith actors”, but she added: “However, others are being openly expressed by individuals within the SNP of longstanding.”

She argued that the fact questions are being asked at all “can only further undermine trust in SNP HQ”.

She added: “We all agree that the party must unify around any newly elected leader.

Michelle Thomson
SNP MSP Michelle Thomson is managing Kate Forbes’s campaign (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

“I have asked that the SNP appoint a robust, experienced, third-party auditor of both the ballot processes and the eventual tally of the vote. This third party must have full oversight of all membership numbers, data and processes.

“This should be done without delay.”

Kirk Torrance, who is advising Ms Regan, said on Twitter: “Independent auditors will give reassurance to the SNP members and the general public that this ballot is conducted properly. This should have been the case from the outset.”

The election process is being carried out by Mi-Voice, an election services firm based in Southampton.

But Ms Thomson said the SNP is “ultimately accountable and responsible for many of the processes, oversight and ultimate integrity of the ballot”.

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland on Thursday, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “I don’t understand half of these comments.

“The process is being conducted by an independent ballot services company, that is an independent organisation. They have got a professional reputation to deliver ballot services effectively and without question.”

Asked if he is satisfied the election is being conducted “entirely properly”, Mr Swinney said: “100%.”

It comes the day after pressure intensified on the party to release its membership numbers.

Previous estimates put the membership at 104,000 in December 2021, although reports suggest 78,000 online ballot papers have been sent out in the current leadership election.

All three candidates support the publication of the membership figures, with Ms Regan writing a letter to SNP chief executive Peter Murrell on behalf of herself and Ms Forbes saying the “information is crucial to fostering trust and confidence among the candidates, their campaign teams, and the party members who are participating in the election”.

On Thursday, Mr Russell confirmed he has told SNP national secretary Lorna Finn he also backs the publication of membership figures.

Neil Gray, who is campaign manager for Mr Yousaf, said: “Humza’s campaign team also asked for the figures to be published and sought assurances this would be done as soon as possible.”

Reports suggest a meeting of the SNP’s ruling body will take place on Thursday to decide if the numbers should be published.

An SNP spokesman said on Wednesday: “Candidates have already been made aware that responsibility for the leadership election does not rest with any member of staff.”