SNP rebel Fergus Ewing has urged his party not to stand in the seat of an MP it expelled earlier this year.
Angus MacNeil was initially suspended from the party after a row with the chief whip, but was expelled after he was critical of the SNP’s strategy to achieve Scottish independence.
Mr Ewing has become a thorn in the side of the party hierarchy on various issues in recent months, resulting in a week-long suspension from the Holyrood group against which he is currently appealing.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Inverness and Nairn MSP said fielding a candidate in Mr MacNeil’s Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles) seat at the next election would split the pro-independence vote and allow Labour to win.
But a spokesperson for the party shot down the idea, saying the SNP will stand in every Scottish constituency at the next general election.
He praised the current incumbent, who has sat as an independent since his expulsion and supported Alba Party MPs Neale Hanvey and Kenny MacAskill as part of a group called Scotland United for Independence.
Mr Ewing said: “If the SNP put up a candidate against Angus, it will merely assist the prospect of a Labour victory in the constituency by splitting the independence vote.
“It makes great sense politically, therefore, for the SNP not to put up a candidate, but instead fully to support Angus in his campaign.
“Anything less will be likely to cause damage to the cause of independence – a cause which is of course far bigger than the party itself.”
Such a move, the former Scottish rural affairs secretary said, would “demonstrate, on the part of our First Minister (Humza Yousaf), a generosity of spirit, and magnanimity towards those who support independence but are not in the SNP: a ‘broad church’ approach – all of which would reflect well upon him”.
Mr Ewing also cited the example of the party’s stance on John Goodlad – a candidate standing for the Orkney and Shetland Movement in the constituency in 1987 – when the SNP stood aside.
The move was supported by Mr Ewing’s mother, SNP stalwart Winnie Ewing, who died this year.
“I understand that the UK general election candidate selection process is under way, and therefore I urge Humza, (SNP president) Michael Russell and the whole SNP NEC to be ‘big enough’ to do what is right for Scotland and our cause.
“Back Angus – and don’t take the risk of helping Labour win by the back door.”
SNP members in the Western Isles, Mr Ewing said, should be balloted on the move.
A spokesperson for the party said: “As with all elections, the SNP will be standing candidates in all Scottish constituencies in the upcoming general election.
“At the next general election, voting SNP is the only way to stand up for Scotland, secure real help with the cost of living, and offer people the chance to build a better future as an independent country.”
The current Scottish Labour candidate for the seat is former Daily Record Westminster editor Torcuil Crichton.