SNP accused of conducting leadership hustings in ‘secrecy’

The SNP has come under fire over the decision to exclude journalists from leadership hustings in the race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as party leader and Scottish first minister.

Labour and the Conservatives condemned the decision to bar media from a series of hustings where the three candidates will debate their views in front of party members.

A spokesperson for the SNP’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) said the events have been designed as a “safe space” where party members can question the candidates.

The three candidates, Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes (Jane Barlow/Andrew Milligan/PA)
The three candidates, Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes (Jane Barlow/Andrew Milligan/PA)

However Kate Forbes, the Scottish Finance Secretary who is running to replace Ms Sturgeon, said it would be “positive” for the hustings events to be broadcast live online as she called for the press to be allowed access.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross claimed the party is “once again hiding from proper scrutiny”, tweeting: “The public deserve to hear the priorities of candidates standing to be the next first minister of Scotland.”

Ian Murray, Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary, has written to SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – who is married to Ms Sturgeon – telling him: “It is completely unacceptable that such an important contest can be conducted in secrecy.”

With the the first hustings event due in Cumbernauld on Wednesday the Tories said the SNP should “urgently” reconsider.

The event will see Ms Forbes, Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and former community safety minister Ash Regan questioned by party members.

But with the media excluded, Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said SNP chiefs are “desperate for their internal civil war to be conducted in private, rather than airing their dirty linen in public”.

He accused the party of having a “cowardly and paranoid media blackout”, adding: “This is nothing short of a disgrace when a new SNP leader – and ultimately first minister – will be in place in just a few weeks’ time.

“The party have adopted a ‘nothing to see here’ attitude, when the public ultimately want to see the three candidates to replace Nicola Sturgeon properly scrutinised on their plans for Scotland.

“The SNP are famed for their lack of transparency but this really takes the biscuit. They have laughably said by excluding the media that these events will be a safe space for members. What do they think the media are going to do to them?

“This is a misguided decision that the SNP should rethink urgently.”

Mr Murray told the SNP chief executive it is “vital that proper scrutiny takes place in a transparent contest”.

In his letter to Mr Murrell, the Labour MP said the SNP should allow media into the events, and also stream them online so the public could watch.

Mr Murray wrote: “I ask that you open the doors to journalists, to allow proper scrutiny of candidates, and that you broadcast each and every one of these hustings events online for the public to view.

“Previous Labour leadership elections followed this process, and indeed even the Tory leadership election last year allowed the press and public to participate.

“It is completely unacceptable that such an important contest can be conducted in secrecy, with the people of Scotland given no say whatsoever in choosing their next leader.

“The next first minister of Scotland, whoever it may be, should not be chosen behind closed doors, too scared to face the scrutiny of the public. The people of Scotland deserve better.”

Ms Forbes said: “As you would expect for Scotland’s biggest political party, there is considerable interest from members in listening to the forthcoming hustings.

“As the leader of the SNP will also become first minister, it is no surprise that the general public as well as the media are keen to follow the debate too.

“I have received messages from party members the length and breadth of Scotland because all of the spaces for the hustings have been snapped up.

“I fully believe in democracy and transparency, and I think it would be a positive thing for the hustings to be livestreamed to a significantly bigger audience – the SNP has a membership of 100,000 and most of the venues will only take a few hundred people.

“I don’t believe any of the candidates have anything to hide, in fact, it would give us a platform to set a positive example for how to have respectful, informed and varied debate.

“I hope that members of the media can be given access too – as well as the national media, I know a number of local media outlets will be very keen to cover town hall meetings that are happening on their doorstep.”

A spokesperson for the SNP’s NEC said: “SNP members are the lifeblood out our party and our movement. It is the members who will be voting to the next leader of the part so the SNP NEC has designed the party hustings as a safe space for members to ask questions of the three candidates.”

Ms Regan said: “The media have a job to do, and as candidates, we have a duty to be held to scrutiny. I firmly believe we should allow access and ask that the media carry the proceedings fairly and fully – making them available to all.

“Today I set out my action plan for the SNP, covering four key themes: transparency, accountability, modernity and accessibility. It’s important we talk about values and elevate the tone of the debate.”