SNP activists split over stronghold candidate

Anum Qaisar with Alex Salmond. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Anum Qaisar with Alex Salmond. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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A ROW over who should be the SNP’s Holyrood candidate in the Nationalists’ strongest seat in the Capital has split the local party.

Activists in Edinburgh Eastern are at loggerheads over who they want to replace Kenny 
MacAskill when he stands down at the Scottish Parliament elections next May.

Mr MacAskill is backing Anum Qaisar, 22, a former Labour activist who switched to the Yes campaign in the run-up to last year’s referendum.

She has also been endorsed by the three SNP councillors in the constituency – Mike Bridgman, Alex Lunn and Stefan Tymkewycz – and was widely seen as the favourite for the nomination.

If elected, she would become Edinburgh’s first female Asian parliamentarian and Scotland’s youngest ever MSP.

But sources in the local party said the endorsements for Ms Qaisar from Mr MacAskill and the councillors had created a backlash and led to accusations she was being “imposed”.

One insider said: “This whole thing has been extremely divisive. There is a feeling among some members that Anum is being imposed on us – some are threatening to leave the party.”

Mr MacAskill announced in June he planned to quit as an MSP after serving since the start of the parliament in 1999.

The SNP’s national executive committee agreed there should be an all-female shortlist and five contenders are in the running.

Apart from Ms Qaisar, the hopefuls are Rosemary Hunter, co-founder of the Snowdrop petition which led to the UK handgun ban after the Dunblane school massacre; Ash Denham, a leading figure in Women for Independence who works for think tank Common Weal; Audrey Birt, former director for Scotland of Breakthrough Breast Cancer; and Alison Lindsay, a long-serving SNP activist.

The insider said the contest now looked “a close call” between Ms Hunter and Ms Denham.

In his endorsement of Ms Qaisar, Mr MacAskill described her as “one of the brightest talents” of the new generation which had emerged during the referendum.

He added: “She’s hugely talented and highly personable. Anum would be an outstanding candidate and representative for Edinburgh Eastern.”

One critic of Ms Qaisar said: “People are genuinely surprised why the MSP and the three councillors would endorse someone who does not have the experience or knowledge when there are a number of other candidates who obviously do. People are mystified as to why this happening.”

Ms Qaisar said: “My team and I are running a positive and inclusive selection campaign for Edinburgh Eastern.

“I am working hard all across the constituency to win the support of members, and I’m delighted with the support I have received thus far.”

Voting by party members in the selection contest ends on Monday.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com