New SNP depute could end up ‘elected but without influence’

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A former SNP cabinet minister has questioned the calibre of the field in the party’s depute leadership contest, warning the victor could end up “elected but without influence”.

Kenny MacAskill, who served as justice secretary from 2007-14, said power within the SNP continued to be concentrated in the hands of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her husband, the party’s chief executive Peter Murrell.

Kenny MacAskill said the role's lack of definition made it hard for the incumbent to have influence, Picture: Julie Bull

Kenny MacAskill said the role's lack of definition made it hard for the incumbent to have influence, Picture: Julie Bull

Writing for The Scotsman’s sister paper, the i, Mr MacAskill warned that the depute role is ill-defined and that the race to succeed Angus Robertson, who stood down earlier this month after losing his Westminster seat in last year’s election, was “gathering little attention even within the SNP, never mind the public”.

Mr MacAskill said: “The limited interest is illustrated by the failure of senior party figures to stand. Indeed, so far the contest has been marked more by who’s not standing than by who is. The current declared candidates are worthy, but could hardly be described as ‘heavy hitters’ … Others may well join the contest, but are again likely to be from what might be viewed as a tier below the senior leadership.”

Only two candidates have put their names forward so far, including just one elected politician, MSP James Dornan. Several senior figures have ruled themselves out, including Holyrood ministers John Swinney, Derek Mackay and Humza Yousaf, as well as the SNP leadership team at Westminster, Ian Blackford and his deputy, Kirsty Blackman.

Several MPs have been tipped for the role, including Tommy Sheppard, Joanna Cherry, Hannah Bardell and Philippa Whitford, but have yet to declare their intentions.

Mr MacAskill said: “The contest exposes the real problem for the SNP: the role isn’t defined. As a result, candidates have been stating they would use it for anything from building the base for IndyRef2 to forging links with other groups.

“Power in the party rests with Nicola Sturgeon and her appointees, chairman Derek Mackay and her husband, Peter Murrell, the party’s chief executive. You could be elected but without influence – like US vice-presidents, a heartbeat away from office but a world away from power.

“So before the SNP can choose who they want for the job, they need to decide what they want from it and ensure the winner can deliver on it. Until that’s addressed, it’s a contest for a post that’s a title only, without remit or power.”

A Scottish Conservative spokeswoman said: “Mr MacAskill’s analysis highlights the poverty of talent on the SNP benches. At least Angus Robertson had substance, whereas the current challengers would be unlikely to inspire confidence in their own homes.”