SNP activists today warned of a backlash against “celebrity” candidates bidding to stand in next year’s general election.
Party members in Edinburgh East – the city’s most promising target for the Nationalists – said they did not want to see local councillors Mike Bridgman and Alex Lunn squeezed out of the race by comedy boss Tommy Sheppard and former TV weatherman Lloyd Quinan.
Mr Sheppard, a former Scottish Labour deputy general secretary who runs The Stand comedy club, joined the SNP after campaigning for a Yes vote in the referendum. He was billed as favourite to win the nomination in Edinburgh East as soon as his interest in the seat became known. Mr Quinan, who was an SNP MSP from 1999 to 2003 before briefly moving to the Scottish Socialist Party, said his involvement with the Niddrie and Craigmillar for Yes group during the referendum had reignited his enthusiasm and people had urged him to enter the race.
But activists said the focus on the two high-profile contenders threatened to unbalance the selection contest.
One senior local party member, who asked not to be named, said: “Lots of people have not heard of Tommy Sheppard. There’s no good reason why he should be the favourite.”
Another said there was some resentment among rank and file members because the party establishment seemed to want Mr Sheppard to win the nomination.
Activist James Lennox, from Newcraighall, who joined the party in the wake of the referendum, said: “Alex Lunn and Mike Bridgman are already elected councillors in the area.
“Tommy Sheppard was a Labour official and Lloyd Quinan was in the SNP and then switched to the SSP. A lot of people see them as outsiders.
“The rules used to be you had to be a party member for a year before you could stand and some people are not happy that has changed.”
Mr Lennox said he could see that having a high-profile candidate could be positive for the party.
But he added: “Tommy Sheppard and Lloyd Quinan have targeted this seat because they think it is winnable.
“I will probably back one of the councillors who are there already and have a record of serving the community on issues like saving Castlebrae High School and getting a new Portobello High.”
Mr Sheppard said he rejected the “celebrity” label. “You won’t find anyone who despises celebrity culture more than me,” he said. “Celebrity culture is about people getting rewards for doing very little. I don’t think anyone could level that accusation against me.
“Lloyd and I might be the best-known of the candidates but that’s because we have done a lot of stuff over a long period of time. If people know me because of what I’ve done and the contribution I’ve made, I think that’s fair. I’m not asking people to vote for me because I’m God’s gift.”
Mr Quinan also denied he was a celebrity. He praised Cllr Bridgman for his part in the campaign to save Castlebrae and described Cllr Lunn as “an excellent advocate for his constituents”.
But he said people had urged him to stand because they felt he had “the skills, passion and commitment to win this seat”.
Edinburgh East, currently held by Labour’s Sheila Gilmore, recorded the biggest Yes vote in the Capital in the referendum – 47 per cent – and the equivalent seat for Holyrood elections has been held by the SNP since 2007.