With Parliament in recess, political attention in Scotland has turned to the deputy leadership of the SNP.
The first question is to ask is whether the deputy leadership of a Scottish party is particularly important. After all, who is current deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives? Or Scottish Labour? Any suggestions?
For clarity, it’s Jackson Carlaw for the Scottish Tories, and Lesley Laird – on an interim basis – for Scottish Labour.
However, with the SNP forming the Scottish Government, the position of deputy leader does matter.
Looking back in history, the most recent six SNP leaders – Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond (twice), John Swinney, Gordon Wilson, and William Wolfe – all served as deputy leaders before stepping up to the top job in the party.
The current contest, when it takes place, is one the SNP wishes it could have avoided. The party is now seeking its third deputy leader in 16 months, following first the resignation of MP Stewart Hosie for “personal reasons”, then this month’s decision by Angus Robertson, who lost his Westminster seat last year following the snap UK election, to stand down from the position.
Mr Robertson’s decision was sensible, as it is obviously more advantageous to have a party deputy leader who is an elected representative, either at Holyrood, Westminster, or even local government.
MSP James Dornan was first to declare his candidacy for the job, quickly followed by the announcement that current Westminster leader Ian Blackford would not be applying for the post.
Several other candidates have hinted at the possibility of running, or have had their names suggested by colleagues. These include MPs Pete Wishart, Hannah Bardell, and Joanna Cherry, among others.
What are the criteria the winning candidate should possess? Well, if gender balance is a consideration, since the leader is a woman, perhaps the deputy should be a man. And since the leader is currently at Holyrood, shouldn’t the deputy be at Westminster?
There’s also a geographical aspect. With the party leader sitting for an inner-city Glasgow seat, it would perhaps be politic for the deputy to be from a rural seat, perhaps from the Highlands or the North-East. Sadly for Mr Dornan, who is an able and likeable MSP, the fact that he represents the next-door seat to Nicola Sturgeon in Glasgow, along with the general view that the deputy should be a Westminster politician, mitigate against the possibility of his winning the contest.
The election will be held on a single-transferrable-vote system open to the entire party membership – not just elected representatives. That makes predicting the outcome particularly difficult.
And, of course, it should be remembered that the deputy leader does not necessarily have to be a current MSP, MP, or councillor – any party member can stand if he or she wishes.
That leaves the door ajar for a left-field candidate who might help rally the Nationalist troops. Anyone seen Alex Salmond recently?