Fundamentalist Neil poised to make bid for SNP leadership

SPECULATION was mounting today that leading SNP fundamentalist Alex Neil is set to enter the race to become party leader.

Sources said he was planning to make an announcement before the weekend.

If he does put his name forward, it will make the contest a four-cornered fight. Former MSP Mike Russell announced his candidacy yesterday, joining deputy leader Roseanna Cunningham and justice spokeswoman Nicola Sturgeon.

Mr Neil - who lost the 2000 leadership contest to John Swinney - has said he will only stand if he believes he has a realistic chance of winning.

But sources said he was encouraged by indications of party opinion.

Two weekend surveys among constituency conveners showed Mr Neil in second place behind Ms Cunningham but ahead of Ms Sturgeon, despite the fact he had not said he would stand.

Party insiders claimed if Mr Neil did throw his hat in the ring, the main contest would be between him and Ms Cunningham.

"If he came in he would have a good chance of winning," said one source. "It would be a two-horse race between Alex and Roseanna. The danger would be they could let Nicola through the middle."

Mr Russell, announcing his candidacy yesterday, said he wanted to reform the SNP "from the bottom to the top" in order to restore the party’s confidence and put it on the path to power.

"Right now we are not a government in waiting. We are a party that has temporarily lost its way," said the former SNP chief executive."

He added: "I will not lead a party riven by a rabble of narrow sects determined to impose their views on the majority, no matter the cost.

"That’s not democracy. It is more like soap opera."