SSP in race to replace Tommy Sheridan

BATTLE was joined yesterday in the contest to become the next leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, with Alan McCombes, a senior party official, entering the race to replace Tommy Sheridan.

Mr McCombes, the SSP’s head of policy, announced his intention to run for the leadership of the party that was put on the electoral map by Mr Sheridan. Mr Sheridan became the SSP’s first MSP when he was elected in Glasgow in 1999. He was joined by five other MSPs in 2003.

Mr Sheridan resigned in November to spend more time with his pregnant wife, Gail, but his resignation quickly became overshadowed by allegations about his private life in a tabloid newspaper.

His departure has left a void at the top of the party that Mr McCombes and Colin Fox, an MSP, are both hoping to fill.

Mr McCombes is not an MSP and he may have difficulty convincing SSP activists that he can lead the party from outside the parliament.

But he was one of the founders of the SSP, with Mr Sheridan, and this is expected to win him support.

He said yesterday he wanted to direct the SSP to engage with the 50 per cent of the Scottish population who did not bother to vote.

"These people have been abandoned by the political elites. This is the biggest political constituency for us," he said.

"I think people would see me as a real political heavyweight, capable of standing up to big beasts of the jungle like Alex Salmond, Charles Kennedy and John Reid."

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Mr McCombes said he did not want to see a "coronation" through an uncontested election. "It’s not going to be King Colin - and it’s not going to be King Alan either," he said.

He denied personal ambition was behind his move, saying: "Personally, there are other things I would like to do with my life but I felt responsibility to stand for this position. I think I have support in the party and I think the party wants a choice."

Writing in Scottish Socialist Voice, which he founded, Mr McCombes said he had been arrested and locked up "more times than I can remember" for his political activities.

Mr Fox, a list MSP for the Lothians, said he would explain at a later date his policies to take the party forward and why the members of the SSP should vote for him.

The leadership election will be a straight contest between Mr McCombes and Mr Fox unless other candidates come forward before nominations close this Sunday.

The choice of the next national convener of the SSP will be made by about 350 branch delegates at the party’s conference in Perth next month - although the conference may yet decide it would prefer a dual or collegiate leadership, rather than a single leader.