One of the SNP’s leading voices on Europe has been approached to stand against Ruth Davidson in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election.
Alyn Smith has been “sounded out” for the Edinburgh Central seat, in a move that could turn the contest into a judgment on the Tory leader’s handling of Brexit in an area with one of the strongest Remain votes in the UK.
Smith did not rule out standing for Holyrood when approached by Scotland on Sunday, but the MEP said his focus is on “stopping Brexit” in the final weeks before the UK is set to leave the EU.
Davidson has a majority of just 610 votes in Edinburgh Central, which is seen as a three-way marginal and has previously been represented by the SNP and Labour.
While Davidson was at the top of the Conservative list in the Lothians regional vote in 2016, and would effectively be guaranteed a seat at Holyrood if that was repeated in 2021, losing her constituency would be an embarrassing setback as she bids to become Scotland’s first Conservative First Minister.
Smith has served as MEP for Scotland since 2004 and is a key figure in informing internal party debate on EU policy. His public profile was boosted in days following the 2016 Brexit referendum when he received a standing ovation in the European Parliament after issuing a plea for solidarity with Remain-voting Scotland. “Please, remember this: Scotland did not let you down,” he appealed to fellow MEPs.
With UK MEPs set to be out of a job if Brexit goes ahead as planned on 29 March, Scotland on Sunday understands Smith has also been approached about standing against other sitting Tories at Holyrood and Westminster.
However, the symbolism of pitting one of the SNP’s leading Europhiles against a Tory leader who nationalists claim has gone missing on Brexit appeals to party insiders.
“If [Smith] stood for selection in Edinburgh Central, he’d get it, and he could beat Ruth,” said a senior SNP source.
“He could equally win selection for Westminster in Stirling or Ochil & South Perthshire.”
The SNP source added that a number of nationalists at Westminster were considering a switch to Holyrood, with some feeling the parliament in London will become a “sideshow” once the final status of Brexit is settled, although their fate will be in the hands of local party members.
A Scottish Conservative spokeswoman said: “Ruth will be standing up for all those in Edinburgh Central who want to get Nicola Sturgeon out of government, and stop yet another referendum on independence.”