SNP deputy leadership contest: what you need to know about the four contenders

Stuart Rodger

Two MPs, an MEP, and a local councillor throw hat into the ring to replace Stewart Hosie

FOUR candidates for the SNP deputy leadership contest have now been confirmed, with candidates from all three levels of elected office in Scotland.

The deputy leadership contest follows the resignation of Stewart Hosie after revelations about his personal life. All 120,000 SNP members will be entitled to vote in the contest, with the results announced at the party’s conference in Glasgow in mid-October.

Here CommonSpace profiles all four candidates in the race.

Chris McEleny, group leader on Inverclyde Council

Chris McEleny is leader of the SNP group on Inverclyde council, and the only candidate from local government on the ballot paper.

Though it is unusual for local councillors to run for leadership roles within parties, the local elections next year will be more significant than most, with the SNP potentially completing their dominance at all levels of elected representation in Scotland – including potentially winning over Glasgow City Council from Labour.

“I will be supporting a gender balanced group of candidates going forward.” Chris McEleny

It also comes at a time when the SNP are seeking to devolve power to a local level, and amid a growing awareness of the crisis of local democracy in Scotland. McEleney thinks it would send out a strong message to have a local councillor as deputy leader. He said to CommonSpace: “I will happily believe in local government and the difference and change we make to people’s lives. It will send out a massive message to people across Scotland by having a councillor as deputy leader that the SNP believes in local government.”

He has expressed support for the Women 50: 50 campaign, highlighting the unequal representation of women among local councillors: “One female councillor [in Inverclyde] out of 20 councillors. I am certainly hoping to lead locally, a group of 50 per cent men, 50 per cent women. I am hoping to see across Scotland that gender balance. I will be supporting a gender balanced group of candidates going forward.”

He is firmly on the left of the party, saying: “I don’t pretend to be something I am not. I am a clear left-of-centre candidate, with left-of-centre values.” He has stated his opposition to the monarchy, and called for a 50 per cent top rate of tax on those earning over £150,000 a year. He has called for the National Living Wage to be extended to all those under-25.

Angus Robertson, MP for Moray

Argued by many to be the most experienced of all the candidates, Angus Robertson has been an MP for Moray since 2001, and has been SNP group leader since 2007. His pitch for the leadership is based on three themes – his leadership credentials, his relationship with the grassroots, and ability to help achieve independence.

Representing Moray, in north-east Scotland, he has suggested he could provide balance by representing rural Scotland.

As campaign director for the SNP, Robertson has overseen electoral victories for the party in 2007 and 2011. He already has a high media profile as someone who leads questions from the SNP during Prime Minister’s Question Time. He said to CommonSpace: “The main networking broadcasting hub is from London, so I am an ideal place to be able to explain the shortcomings of the UK government’s approach, and why Scotland is taking a different approach.”

Perhaps Robertson’s most controversial intervention has been orchestrating the SNP’s reversal on its position on Nato. The subsequent controversy saw two of the party’s MSPs resign. Robertson has maintained, however, that such a position is consistent with the removal of Trident nuclear weapons from Scotland.

Robertson also has experience as a diplomatic correspondent in Europe, with his campaign website saying: “As a European-based diplomatic affairs correspondent for nearly a decade and then as SNP foreign affairs and europe spokesman he knows the challenges and opportunities we have to deliver independence.”

Representing Moray, in north-east Scotland, he has suggested he could provide balance by representing rural Scotland, while leader Nicola Sturgeon represents urban Scotland. He has received endorsements from across the party and across Scotland, including MSP Humza Yousaf, poet Kevin Williamson, MP Eilidh Whiteford, and SNP Youth National Convenor Rhiannon Spear.

Tommy Sheppard, MP for Edinburgh East

MP for Edinburgh East, Sheppard only joined the SNP in 2014 following the independence referendum.

On the left of the party, he is open about his socialist-leanings:  "I'm not ashamed to call myself a socialist, in fact that's what I am and I'm proud of it.” He is a staunch republican and opposes the monarchy. He has warned against creating a post-Brexit Scotland catered to the interests of Big Finance: “if we yield to a tax haven dream to win over a few bankers from the city of Edinburgh, then we will lose the argument and the people we really need to enthuse.”

“We need to rethink how we make policy – involving as many members as possible in a continuous process." Tommy Sheppard

He is a former Assistant General Secretary for Scottish Labour, but left the party in 2003, citing the war in Iraq and the party’s broader drift to the right, saying: “It is sickening to behold the British prime minister play Robin to Bush's Batman gallivanting throughout the world from one imperial crusade to the next.”

His pitch for the deputy leadership is centred on involving the party’s membership. The SNP has faced criticism for being overly centralized, but Sheppard has said: “We need to rethink how we make policy – involving as many members as possible in a continuous process." He added: "To work, change must come from the bottom up via a swift but inclusive and comprehensive review. Working with other party officers and the NEC I’d like to lead that process, starting as soon as possible."

One headline policy is to have paid party organizers, possibly at branch level: “We need to prepare as many people as possible to play an active role in campaigns. I believe we need to refocus our basic unit – the party branch – to include much more political discussion and action. We need to spend money on professional organisers – at HQ and in a regional network – to support branch activities and members’ training.”

Alyn Smith, MEP

Smith has been an MEP since 2004, and sits for the SNP as part of the Green-European Free Alliance group of parties in the European Parliament.

His pitch for the leadership is centred on Europe, playing on his direct link to Europe as a Member of the European Parliament. The Scottish Government is seeking to retain Scotland’s EU membership after Scotland voted by 62 per cent to 38 per cent to Remain, in contrast to Britain as a whole, which voted by 52 per cent to Leave.

“Europe is our future, Westminster is our past." Alyn Smith

He said to CommonSpace: "We need to engage not just through London but directly with Europe. There's interest but we need a sustained intensive communication of what's going on here. I'm uniquely qualified for this role." He added: "We need to make clear, to ourselves as a party to Scotland and to the wider world, that we choose Europe as our future, Westminster is our past."

He has expressed a desire to reach out to the wider Yes-movement, beyond the SNP: “The future is unwritten, but where the independence movement is far bigger than the SNP, it does look to us for inspiration, organisation and, yes, leadership. We need to support and nurture the wider movement more than we are now."

He has made headlines by suggesting the possibility of a referendum on the monarchy post-independence: “I want to see the people of Scotland in charge of Scotland's future, so, once we regain independence I would be up for a referendum on the subject and the people will choose. There are monarchies I like, and there are republics I like, so long as the people have chosen I'll respect that choice.”

As an MEP, he has a record of opposition to the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), working with Nicola Sturgeon on a letter calling for the UK government to exempt the NHS from TTIP. He said on his website: “The SNP MEPs  have set out clear red lines and we will not compromise upon them. The NHS and other public services must be clearly carved out.”

Pictures courtesy of: the SNPNathanael WilliamsYouTube, David ThompsonEwan McIntoshTommy Sheppard

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