Nominations close for SNP deputy leadership contenders

A second referendum could depend on which of the four candidates wins

It is not long since Scottish National Party conferences were low-key affairs held in hotels in small towns such as Oban and Dunoon.

Now the SNP meets in 10,000-seater auditoriums, has a membership in six figures, and even the contest for the nationalists' deputy leadership has UK-wide import.

On Friday, four candidates put their name forward to replace Stewart Hosie as SNP deputy leader. Who the nationalists' 120,000 members choose could have a significant bearing on both the prospect of a second referendum on independence and the long-term direction of Scotland's largest party.

All five of the SNP's last leaders – including current Scottish first minster Nicola Sturgeon – had previously served as the party's deputy leader. Although the importance of the role has been downgraded in recent years, it still seen as highly influential, especially in the wake of the Brexit vote in June.


High profile

Angus Robertson

has emerged as the early favourite. The Moray MP – a former BBC journalist who reportedly joined the SNP aged 15 after being handed a leaflet by

Charlie Reid

of pop group the Proclaimers – has made independence a key part of his pitch in a bid to woo the tens of thousands who joined the party in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum. “We must start campaigning right now to persuade people who didn’t vote Yes in 2014. It was a great achievement to persuade so many to vote Yes, but we have to persuade the 55 per cent who did not,” Robertson wrote in pro-independence newspaper the



As the SNP’s leader in Westminster, where all but three of the Scottish seats were won by nationalists in 2015, Robertson has a high public profile. But others are hoping that the large electorate, many voting in their first SNP leadership election, could spring a surprise.

Robertson's most recognisable challenger is Alyn Smith, an MEP who received a standing ovation in Brussels for his plea to EU members to respect Scotland's vote to remain. Smith has said his experience would be crucial as the SNP attempts to navigate post-Brexit waters.

Tommy Sheppard is appealing directly to the SNP grassroots, promising greater distribution of power in what is a very hierarchical party. Sheppard, who founded The Stand comedy clubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow, was an assistant general secretary of Scottish Labour who left the party in 2003 after becoming disillusioned with Tony Blair's leadership.

After spending two years campaigning for a Yes (to independence) vote, he joined the SNP days after the September 2014 referendum and was quickly adopted as the party’s candidate for the Edinburgh East constituency, which he comfortably won in last year’s general election.

The final candidate for the deputy leadership is Chris McEleny, a local councillor who has called for the SNP to be more “socialist”.

Brexit has transformed what was a relatively minor post in Scottish politics into "something much more significant," says Peter Lynch, lecturer in politics at Stirling university and author of SNP: A History of the Scottish National Party. "We don't know what it means but it will mean something, depending on who wins."

The key question facing any prospective deputy leader will be their position on a second referendum, says Lynch. “At all the hustings meeting the candidates will be asked what is happening with independence, what are you doing, when will there be another referendum.”

National conversation

But with polls showing no significant increase in support for independence despite the overwhelming Scottish vote to remain in the EU, the SNP risks talking to itself rather than voters in the coming months, warns Lynch.

“Now is a chance to talk to No voters, to have another national conversation, that is what they need to do. But instead of doing that now they are having a deputy leadership contest, they are talking to each other.”

The winner will be announced at the SNP conference in Glasgow on October 13th.