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Friday, 4 August, 2000, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Two-horse race for SNP top job
Alex Neil and John Swinney
Alex Neil (left) and John Swinney square up
The Scottish National Party has confirmed that it will be a two-horse race to succeed Alex Salmond as leader.

Nominations for the party's top positions closed on Friday morning.

The party has announced that Alex Neil and John Swinney - who outlined their plans to win over "middle Scotland" during their first public head-to-head on BBC Scotland's Newsnight Scotland - are the only two contenders for the main job.

There will be a three-way fight for the deputy leadership between justice spokeswoman Roseanna Cunningham, transport spokesman Kenny MacAskill and Peter Kearney.

John Swinney
John Swinney: "Need to inspire"
Ian Blackford, who threatened legal action against Mr Salmond after he was suspended from his job as national treasurer, has put his name forward for the post again.

And Mr Salmond is to stand for election as an ordinary member of the party's national executive.

The elections will be held at the party conference next month.

Mr Neil and Mr Swinney squared up to each other in a 20-minute debate on Newsnight Scotland on Thursday.

Both men acknowledged that gaining middle ground support was important.

But Mr Swinney added: "We have a moderate left of centre policy which appeals to the whole of Scotland and we need to take that forward."

'Fresh ideas'

At the weekend he had made it clear that in order to win over middle Scotland the SNP needed to introduce new radical policies.

However, he refused to be drawn on what those fresh ideas were and said he would discuss such matters with the party's membership during the course of the campaign.

Mr Neil said he believed the SNP was achieving where other parties have for far too long failed.

"I think one of the problems of the last 10 years is that all political parties have sectioned off the people of Scotland. The Scottish National Party means we represent the whole of the nation.

Alex Neil
Alex Neil: "Man for the job"
"Yes we have to appeal to middle Scotland and I think the thing with middle Scotland is that they have a social consciousness," said Mr Neil.

Both candidates were reminded of their involvement in recent campaigns which were judged to be embarrassing episodes in the party's history - Mr Neil's association with "Free by '93" and Mr Swinney's "Penny for Scotland".

Mr Neil defended his involvement with the independence bid by saying: "It was a myth to say that it was a disaster - during that campaign we increased our support by 50% and we increased membership."

Mr Swinney was subject to stinging criticism from his leadership rival when quizzed about last year's penny for Scotland campaign.

Mr Neil said: "That campaign should have been discussed more thoroughly.

"I think it is important that the leader does not bounce the party into policies that it does not want.

'Backed public services'

"One of the things the leadership has to do is developed the democracy of the party. On that one it was felt that people were bounced into policy decisions."

But Mr Swinney said the decision to back a tax increase came from an honest reaction to the Treasury's plans to slash public spending.

He said: "We chose to back investment in public services in Scotland."

On the future of the Scottish Parliament, Mr Neil said he was in favour of maximising its limited powers; lobbying for it to have enhanced powers and using it as a democratic platform to drive forward independence.

The votes will be counted on 23 September
Mr Swinney said the parliament gives the SNP a "perfect platform" in which to "raise the aspirations" of the people of Scotland.

He added that the issue of independence was one for the electorate.

"I have my part to play in inspiring people, but they must decide for themselves," said Mr Swinney.

When asked about their front bench teams, Mr Neil said he would be glad to have Mr Swinney alongside him.

But Mr Swinney gave no such assurances to Mr Neil.

He said: "I am making no commitment about my front bench, but I want the best and most inclusive team."

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See also:

04 Aug 00 | Scotland
SNP leadership contest: Analysis
01 Aug 00 | Scotland
Swinney under fire over party aims
27 Jul 00 | Scotland
SNP leadership contest clearer
27 Jul 00 | Scotland
SNP members take sides
26 Jul 00 | Scotland
John Swinney: My message
26 Jul 00 | Scotland
Alex Neil: My message
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