Nicola Sturgeon has urged SNP members not to campaign for Neale Hanvey after he was suspended by party bosses for allegedly sharing antisemitic messages on social media.
Mr Hanvey, the former leader of the SNP group on Fife Council, will still appear on ballot papers in the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency as the deadline for nominations has passed.
Despite being suspended by his party, several activists have declared they will still support his candidacy in the key marginal seat - which is being defended by Labour’s Lesley Laird with a majority of just 259.
Speaking for the first time about the suspension, the First Minister called for local SNP supporters to campaign in neighbouring seats, stressing her party “unfortunately” no longer has a candidate contesting the seat.
“My message to SNP members and activists would be to campaign in neighbouring constituencies,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“They’re not too far away from Stephen Gethins in North East Fife, for example, so there’s plenty of good candidates out there to get out and campaign for.”
An investigation into Mr Hanvey’s actions has been launched by the party and, asked what would happen if he won the seat, Ms Sturgeon said: “He’s suspended at the moment, there’s disciplinary action that will flow from that and it would not be appropriate for me to comment while that’s ongoing.”
Ms Sturgeon also addressed speculation Mr Hanvey may have been axed because of his views on trans rights.
She said: “He was suspended because of the anti-Semitic comments he made and that is the long and short of it.”
A pro-indepdence campaign group in Fife yesterday declared it would still support Mr Hanvey despite the SNP disowning his campaign. Yes Kirkcaldy, which was set up before the 2014 referendum, had previously indicated it would back the Scottish Greens candidate’s campaign
In statement, the group said: “We thought Neale Hanvey had dropped out of the race altogether, leaving the Greens’ Scott Rutherford as the only pro-independence candidate.
“That turned out not to be the case, and since it became clear that Neale was running as a pro-independence, independent candidate, who still has very strong support, we have come to the conclusion he has the best chance of winning the seat.”
A crowdfunding page launched by Mr Hanvey on Saturday to pay for his campaigning costs smashed its target in less than 24 hours.
Speaking today, Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw described the decision by some SNP activists to support the party’s axed candidate as “appalling”.
Last week, Mr Hanvey admitted to having shared an article from the Kremlin-backed news agency Sputnik from 2016 concerning the Hungarian financier George Soros, illustrated with an image showing him holding puppets of world leaders.
The former Dunfermline councillor made a full apology and later announced his intention to stand as an independent.
Yesterday, the SNP’s defence spokesman questioned why some Nationalists were still supporting Mr Hanvey.
Responding to one on Twitter who said the antisemitism was a mere allegation, he said: “It’s not ‘alleged antisemitism’, he posted a statement apologising for spreading antisemitism – in this case theories that lead directly to hatred of Jews: comparisons with Nazis and George Soros conspiracies. Why would you swing behind that?”
Scott Rutherford, the Greens’ candidate in the seat, said: “I am disappointed that some in Yes Kirkcaldy have ultimately decided that they will not back the only pro-independence party in the constituency at this election. The fact is the SNP suspended Neale Hanvey because of his views. As an inclusive, cross-party movement, independence supporters should be uniting behind the only remaining pro-indy party on the ballot.
“The Scottish Greens are already leading on the key issues in this constituency, calling for a just transition at Mossmorran and jobs at BiFab in Burntisland. As well as independence for Scotland, that is what I will continue to campaign hard on for the next nine days.”
The Scotsman has approached Mr Hanvey for comment.