A close-run election is expected at the party’s AGM on Monday, with insiders predicting the result could hinge on just one vote.
Councillor Cardownie, who has led the Edinburgh SNP group since 2007, successfully fended off an attempted coup last year when he defeated ex-Lothians MSP Stefan Tymkewycz by 14 votes to four following a “disappointing” local election campaign in which the party ultimately formed a coalition with rivals Labour.
Now, he must fend off former financial consultant Cllr Howat’s bid for the reins of the local party – and deputy leadership of the city council.
The winner-takes-all vote will be tight, the News understands. An insider said: “At the moment it could go either way. The two camps have hardened up and it’s probably one vote that will hold the key.”
Today, Cllr Howat, who defeated ex-council leader Jenny Dawe in the Meadows/Morningside ward last year, said “frustration” with the party’s leadership had been brewing since the May 2012 elections.
“We didn’t have as successful an election as we should have and we didn’t come out of the coalition agreement as well as we should have done. There was a handful of votes between the parties and the electorate told us they wanted us to work together, but the SNP are being seen to prop up Labour as the junior partner when it should be an equal partnership.”
Under the concord, key portfolios such as health and housing – part of the SNP’s remit for the preceding five years – had been transferred to Labour which had been “a sore one to take”, said Cllr Howat.
He said while Cllr Cardownie was “hardworking” and would remain in a senior role, he “doesn’t have the confidence [of the local party] to lead us into the referendum”.
He added: “There’s not tension in the group, it’s more pent-up frustration that elected members want to give so much more and are not getting the opportunity to do that. A leader should be leading because of the confidence and consensus of the group, not simply because of the position they are in. Steve doesn’t have that.”
Respected councillor Frank Ross had been tipped to run for the leadership but it is understood the economic convenor has ruled himself out.Cllr Gavin Barrie, who sources say is the “natural successor” to Steve Cardownie, is also not challenging.
Cllr Cardownie declined to comment saying it was an “internal party matter”.
Votes will be counted on Monday following a secret ballot. With just two candidates standing, a straight majority verdict will decide the election.
FORMER financial consultant Sandy Howat, 41, once stood against SNP legend Winnie Ewing for the party presidency.
He is now the candidate who beat former Lib Dem council leader Jenny Dawe, taking the fourth seat in Meadows/Morningside for the Nationalists.
His unsuccessful 2001 challenge to Mrs Ewing was a protest against “romantic nationalism”, though he also said he did not believe anyone should be elected unopposed.
He joined the SNP when he was 16 and was the party’s candidate in Edinburgh South at the 2010 general election.
He was a holiday rep for Thomsons in Spain before returning in the late 1990s. He has also worked in the civil service.
An Aberdeen fan from Hawick, he says he has “sympathies” for Hibs.
STEVE Cardownie has been an elected councillor since 1988 and has held many of the city’s key posts over the years.
A former union official with the Scottish Office, the 58-year-old is married to Nataliya and lives in the Broughton area of the New Town with their seven-year-old son. He was educated at Leith Academy and Telford College and has served as an employment tribunal panel member for 30 years.
Originally a member of the Labour group, he defected to the SNP in 2005, citing the trams and school closures along with the political direction of the party nationally as his reasons.
For the past decade, he has served as the city’s festivals and events champion. He makes no secret he’s a Hearts fan.