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Shooting for Deputy

Sarah Nimmo

The next SNP conference takes place in Aberdeen at the start of June. The first day will include the announcement of the party's new Depute Leader. Angus Robertson resigned from the position early this year, eight months after losing the constituency seat he held for 16 years. Heading for pastures new as an advisory board member of the Scottish Policy Foundation, he said he would “always be there to help Scotland reach its full potential”.

View from the stands

It is perhaps the added pressure of running a minority government or ambiguity about what the Depute role actually entails that has led to several SNP heavyweights declaring they will be keeping their hats on the rack and out of the ring. Ian Blackford, his successor as SNP Westminster Leader, and SNP Westminster Deputy Leader, Kirsty Blackman, have already ruled themselves out of the contest.

Minister for Transport & the Islands, Humza Yousaf, said that after finally finding a healthier work-life balance he has no appetite to take on another set of responsibilities. Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Pete Wishart, has also taken his score off the door, stating he did not believe he had sufficient support within the party. Derek Mackay noted his responsibilities as Cabinet Secretary for Finance & Constitution and as the party’s Business Convener when stating he would not be in the running. Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, Michael Russell, has also said he will not be among those contesting the position.

Tommy Sheppard, touted by some only a few weeks ago as the most likely successor to Robertson and the candidate who came second when he first tried for job the in 2016, has ruled himself out, alongside SNP Westminster spokesperson on Justice & Home Affairs, Joanna Cherry.

Down on the racetrack

First to shout that although they were not the sheriff, they most certainly want to be the deputy, was James Dornan who announced his bid two days after Robertson’s resignation. Elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2011, Dornan is a former Glasgow City councillor and current Convener of the Education & Skills Committee. He seems to have styled himself as the candidate of choice for those wanting a second independence referendum as soon as possible.

Quickly following suit was “surprise” candidate Julie Hepburn. She has worked for Pete Wishart, John Swinney, is the current research manager for Stuart McDonald, and is married to Minister for Employability & Training, Jamie Hepburn. She said she wants to utilise her near 20 years of experience within the party to prepare for a second independence referendum.

Making his way to the starting blocks, Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs & Fair Work, Keith Brown, has entered the race with a pledge to utilise the Depute Leader position to prepare the party for a second independence referendum. Given his time served with the party in a number of ministerial roles, the odds may well be in Keith’s favour.


The latest contender is Inverclyde Councillor, Chris McEleny, who also stood in the 2016 depute leader election.


Time is still left for others to decide if they will be in the running, with ballots to be issued on Friday 18 May. During the last Depute Leader contest, half of the candidates were not MPs or MSPs so it seems likely other runners will arrive before long.

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