SNP candidates back media access to hustings

Humza Yousef, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan (L-R) are all running to replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland's first minister. Credit: PA

All three candidates hoping to replace Nicola Sturgeon have hit out at the SNPs plans to bar media from attending all its upcoming leadership husting events.

Consequently, the party has said it is “working with media outlets” who have asked to view the proceedings.

The press ban had meant the public would be unable to view a major part of the contest between Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf, as they race to become Scotland's first minister.

Not including the media was supposed to allow a "safe space" for members to ask questions, the SNP said but the party appeared to ease their position after criticism.

Finance Secretary Ms Forbes called for media to be allowed access, as well as for the events to be live streamed, to allow party members and the general public to watch.

She said: “I fully believe in democracy and transparency... 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 spokesman for Mr Yousaf said “he has no problem with the media seeing any of the hustings”.

They added he had already signed up to TV debates during the leadership campaign to allow non-members to “see why Humza is the top candidate to become Scotland’s first minister”, but, ultimately, the decision was one for the NEC.

Ms Regan said she “firmly believes” that media outlets should be given access, adding: “As candidates, we have a duty to be held to scrutiny.

“I ask that the media carry the proceedings fairly and fully – making them available to all.”

The spokesman for the National Executive Committee said: “We are in discussion with media outlets making a request for access to our members’ hustings event in Cumbernauld, and we’re already looking at ways to make content available to our wider membership for the remainder of this series of events.”

It is not clear how many journalists would be allowed into the first event or from which outlets.

It is possible the earlier decision was taken after Ms Forbes' campaign was dogged by questions from journalists about her views on gay marriage following the revelation that she would have voted to block it had she the chance.

Equality has become a theme of the race to replace Ms Sturgeon, especially after her controversial gender recognition bill sparked fury, and party officials may have decided they do not want differing views to divide the party.

Last year's Tory leadership election, in which every hustings event was broadcast, was viewed as not helping the Conservative Party in the polls.

Candidates, which included eventual prime ministers Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, publicly tore shreds out of each other throughout the campaign - providing opposition parties with ammunition for the next general election.

Scottish Conservative Chairman Craig Hoy MSP, said: “The SNP are desperate for their internal civil war to be conducted in private, rather than airing their dirty linen in public, which explains this cowardly and paranoid media blackout."

He added: “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.”

Scottish Conservative Murdo Fraser, the MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife, asked: "What are the SNP afraid of?" on Twitter.

The SNP has nine hustings events due to take place over two weeks, with around 104,000 SNP members able to vote, according to the latest party figures.

A spokesperson pointed out that broadcast cameras and photographers will be able to capture "establishment shot of the leadership contestants inside the hustings halls prior to the debate starting".

And a debate between the three candidates will be broadcast by STV (ITV News' partner station in Scotland) at 9pm on Tuesday, March 7.

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The election winner - and Scotland's next first minister - will be announced on March 27.

Ms Sturgeon made the shock announcement she would step down from the role after eight year in a surprise press conference two weeks ago, saying she'd decided she wanted a "little bit of time on Nicola Sturgeon, the human being".

She insisted the move was "not a reaction to short term pressures" - a comment perceived as reference to a row over transgender prisoners, which led to widespread criticism of the Scottish government.

Ms Sturgeon will remain in office until her successor is chosen.