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by Kirsteen Paterson
06 October 2023
Mhairi Black threatened to quit SNP on eve of by-election in 'ultimatum' over staffer

Mhairi Black MP spoke at the SNP independence convention in Dundee in June before declaring her intention to stand down

Mhairi Black threatened to quit SNP on eve of by-election in 'ultimatum' over staffer

Mhairi Black threatened to quit the SNP on the eve of the Rutherglen by-election in a row over her successor, Holyrood understands.

Party bosses are said to have caved into demands from the SNP depute Westminster leader to avoid an upset on the day before the crucial vote.

But the move did not prevent the party losing the contest to Labour.

The row is said to have emerged as Black fought to have one of her staff members approved as a potential candidate to fight for the Paisley and Renfrewshire South seat when she steps down at the next general election.

Robert Innes, an SNP councillor in Renfrewshire, has worked for her for around 10 years and is said to have failed vetting for the general election before his boss stepped in.

Holyrood has made multiple approaches to the MP's office but no reply has been received.

However, several senior sources have confirmed the account to Holyrood and one said Black had effectively "blackmailed the party".

Another called it an "ultimatum" and said leaders had given in for a "quiet life".

An SNP source said: "It's quite clear that Mhairi Black has decided she's standing down and has one foot out the door and is perhaps not thinking of the wider consequences."

Black rose to prominence after ousting Labour's Douglas Alexander in 2015. She was just 20 years old and still a student at the time.

She made headlines for her fiery Westminster speeches and became an SNP figurehead, often appearing with Nicola Sturgeon and campaigning on pensions for women and LGBTQ issues while criticising the culture and politics of Westminster. 

She was made depute Westminster leader in December 2022 after running on a ticket with Stephen Flynn.

In June she announced her intention to step down as an MP at next year's general election, calling Westminster a "toxic" and "poisonous" environment and citing social media abuse amongst her reasons.

At the time, SNP leader Humza Yousaf said the "trailblazer" had been a "role model for young people, especially women".

However, Holyrood understands that she threatened to quit in an angry selection row.

Black is understood to have told SNP leaders she would do so publicly on October 4 – one day before voting opened in Rutherglen and Hamilton West – unless Innes, who works as her part-time researcher, was approved as a potential candidate to replace her in Paisley and Renfrewshire South.

SNP decision-makers are said to have agreed to avoid an upset in a difficult race.

However, local party members are said to be furious, and the decision failed to prevent Labour winning the contest.

An SNP source said: "It's quite clear to a number of us that the process has not been followed."

Black and Innes have been contacted for comment.

Innes, who became a councillor last year, is the partner of Scottish Government children's minister Natalie Don.

He announced he was seeking nomination from local branch members on October 3 and told the Gazette newspaper: "I have worked alongside Mhairi Black MP in her office in Paisley for almost a decade now, fighting Tory austerity head-on as we see our beautiful country squeezed of hope by a revolving door of out-of-touch Westminster governments."

Holyrood understands that he failed internal vetting and was then rejected on appeal before Black stepped in. Sources say he called the vetting panel's decision a "stitch-up" and told fellow SNP councillors he would leave to sit as an independent unless it was overturned.

Innes' announcement happened one day before a local nomination meeting. Jacqueline Cameron, the depute leader of Renfrewshire Council, is also standing to become the area's SNP candidate. Local party members have from October 12-26 to vote for their preferred candidate.

An SNP spokesperson said: "Party members in Paisley and Renfrewshire South have the opportunity to democratically select their candidate from a choice of candidates. We do not comment on internal party processes."

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