SNP depute leadership contender Julie Hepburn has declared it is vital the party launches a fresh independence campaign “right now” as nominations closed in the race for the post.
Ms Hepburn yesterday said work must begin to win over No voters as it was confirmed she would be standing against Economy Secretary Keith Brown and Inverclyde Councillor Christopher McEleny.
Around 100,000 party members qualify to take part in the vote and will be sent ballot papers to rank candidates in order of preference under the single transferable vote system. The winner will be announced at the start of the party’s conference in Aberdeen on 8 June.
So far the contest has been dominated by the question of when an independence referendum should be held. Cllr McEleny has made an appeal to the hard line independence supporters by suggesting it should take place within 18 months’ time.
Mr Brown, the front-runner in the race, has urged a more pragmatic approach.
As she called for a new campaign to begin, Ms Hepburn said the party should focus on how independence could be achieved rather than when a referendum should be held.
In the National, she said independence was “tantalisingly close” in 2014, but added the next campaign should not be a “re-run” of the last one.
“Simply shouting the same arguments more loudly is not going to convince those who can be persuaded,” she said. “We need to build a renewed case for independence and start laying those campaign foundations now. We don’t need a date in the diary to start this work. It is vital that we launch a fresh campaign for independence right now if we are to have a chance of winning a second referendum. At the heart of these early stages of a renewed campaign must be engaging and listening to those who voted No in 2014. Some people will never be open to the idea of independence, but significant numbers of people who voted No last time are there to be persuaded. We undoubtedly have a mandate for an independence referendum and I trust our First Minister to make the right judgement when the time comes and have every confidence our views as SNP members will greatly inform that decision.
“But if we continually focus on the when, then I believe we risk neglecting the more fundamental question of how – how do we win.”
Last night Mr Brown said the SNP had “a job to do” to get ready for another poll.
“I felt in terms of organisation and being ready for both future elections and any referenda, I think we have got a job to do to do that,” he said. “These days fixed term parliaments don’t seem to be fixed term any more, so you don’t know when they are going to come along. And referenda can happen, of course. The main focus I have is trying to make sure we are as ready as possible for this.”
Cllr McEleny said the contest was a chance for members to tell the SNP leadership what they thought about the timing of a referendum as he argued Scotland had to become independent.
He said: “The membership of the SNP should have a leading role in helping inform the key decisions we make as a party. This election comes at an opportune moment to help inform our leader Nicola Sturgeon of the wider party’s opinion when she makes a decision in the autumn on what course of action best protects the interests of Scotland.”