SNP back down over media exclusion from leadership hustings
The SNP is to allow journalists to attend its hustings events in the party's leadership contest after facing a backlash over its initial decision not to do so.
The party's ruling committee said it wanted to make the sessions into "a safe space" in a statement yesterday and therefore no press would be allowed in.
But after considerable outcry, including from two of the candidates, a broadcast journalist, print journalist and pool camera will be able to attend the first hustings in Cumernauld on Wednesday evening.
Access to the other events are being explored, with the possibility they might be livestreamed.
Nine hustings events for members have been confirmed as Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan seek to become the SNP's next leader and first minister.
Of the nine hustings events confirmed, one will take place online on 5 March. The others will take place in locations including Cumbernauld, Johnstone and Aberdeen from 1 - 12 March.
Yesterday, a spokesperson for the SNP NEC said: "SNP members are the lifeblood of our party and our movement. It is the members who will be voting for the next leader of the party, so the SNP NEC has designed the party hustings as a safe space for members to ask questions of the three candidates."
The Society of Editors dubbed the decision "outrageous" and Labour MP Ian Murray wrote to SNP chief executive Peter Murrell asking him to open the sessions to scrutiny. He said: "The next First Minister of Scotland, whoever it may be, should not be chosen behind closed doors, too scared to face the scrutiny of the public."
Kate Forbes has called for all hustings to be livestreamed to ensure more members can watch, as well as for media to be allowed to attend. She said: "“I fully believe in democracy and transparency, and I think it would be a positive thing for the hustings to be livestreamed to a significantly bigger audience – 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."
And Ash Regan said: "We have a duty to be held to scrutiny. I firmly believe we should allow access and ask that the media carry the proceedings fairly and fully - making them available to all."
A spokesperson for Humza Yousaf said he had "no problem with the media seeing any of the hustings" but added ultimately the decision was for the National Executive Committee.
Party members can book two tickets to attend one event. Meanwhile, national broadcaster STV will screen a live debate on 7 March.