SNP leadership contest: Party slammed for barring media from leadership hustings

The SNP has been labelled “cowardly and paranoid” after barring the media and the wider public from watching its leadership hustings.

Party bosses insisted the events had been designated a “safe space for members to ask questions of the three candidates”. But critics accused the party of secrecy, and Kate Forbes, one of the three candidates vying to be the next first minister, called for a rethink.

She said the hustings should be broadcast live online and the media given access, adding: “As you would expect for Scotland’s biggest political party, there is considerable interest from members in listening to the forthcoming hustings. As the leader of the SNP will also become first minister, it is no surprise that the general public as well as the media are keen to follow the debate too.”

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The Society of Editors and the National Union of Journalists both condemned the decision. Dawn Alford, executive director of the former, said: “Given that the upcoming SNP leadership election will determine the next First Minister of Scotland, it is outrageous that the decision has been made to conduct hustings events behind closed doors.

The three SNP leadership candidates: Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash ReganThe three SNP leadership candidates: Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan
The three SNP leadership candidates: Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan

“There is a clear and unequivocal public interest in the media’s ability to report on the hustings in order to provide proper scrutiny of the candidates for the benefit of the public. We call on the executive committee to reverse this decision and allow the media access to these important events.”

Fellow SNP leadership contender Ash Regan said: "The media have a job to do, and as candidates, we have a duty to be held to scrutiny. I firmly believe we should allow access and ask that the media carry the proceedings fairly and fully, making them available to all.”

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: “The SNP are desperate for their internal civil war to be conducted in private, rather than airing their dirty linen in public, which explains this cowardly and paranoid media blackout. This is nothing short of a disgrace when a new SNP leader – and ultimately first minister – will be in place in just a few weeks’ time.

“The party have adopted a ‘nothing to see here’ attitude, when the public ultimately want to see the three candidates to replace Nicola Sturgeon properly scrutinised on their plans for Scotland.

“The SNP are famed for their lack of transparency but this really takes the biscuit. They have laughably said by excluding the media that these events will be a safe space for members. What do they think the media are going to do to them? This is a misguided decision that the SNP should rethink urgently.”

Labour’s shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray insisted it was “completely unacceptable that such an important contest can be conducted in secrecy”.

In a letter to SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, who is also Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, he said: “The next First Minister of Scotland, whoever it may be, should not be chosen behind closed doors, too scared to face the scrutiny of the public.”

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The media were given access to the Tory leadership hustings last year, when the next prime minister was being chosen by party members.

The SNP’s decision will mean the wider public will have no direct knowledge of what issues are discussed at the party’s nine hustings, which are being held across Scotland.

A spokesman said: “SNP members are the lifeblood of our party and our movement. It is the members who will be voting for the next leader of the party, so the SNP NEC [national executive committee] has designed the party hustings as a safe space for members to ask questions of the three candidates.”

The party said journalists would be free to gather reaction from outside the hustings halls. There will also be live televised debates held separately.



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