All three candidates to replace Nicola Sturgeon have backed access for journalists to SNP hustings, with the party saying it was now “working with media outlets” who have asked to view the proceedings.
Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf will face off in the first of several hustings on Wednesday in Cumbernauld in the race to become SNP leader and first minister.
A spokesperson for the party’s ruling NEC said on Tuesday the events were designed to be a “safe space” for members to question candidates, but appeared to ease their position after criticism from opposition parties and statements of support from the candidates.
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.
“I hope that members of the media can be given access too – as well as the national media, I know a number of local media outlets will be very keen to cover town hall meetings that are happening on their doorstep.”
A spokesman for Mr Yousaf said “he has no problem with the media seeing any of the hustings”, adding that he had already signed up to TV debates during the leadership campaign to allow non-members to “see why Humza is the top candidate to become Scotland’s first minister”, but, ultimately, said the decision was one for the NEC.
Ms Regan said she “firmly believes” that media outlets should be given access, adding: “As candidates, 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.”
It is not clear how many journalists would be allowed into the first event or from which outlets.
Earlier, the spokesman 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.”
Opposition parties took aim at the SNP before the shift in position, with Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross claiming the party is “once again hiding from proper scrutiny”, tweeting: “The public deserve to hear the priorities of candidates standing to be the next first minister of Scotland.”
He wrote: “I ask that you open the doors to journalists, to allow proper scrutiny of candidates, and that you broadcast each and every one of these hustings events online for the public to view.
“Previous Labour leadership elections followed this process, and indeed even the Tory leadership election last year allowed the press and public to participate.
“It is completely unacceptable that such an important contest can be conducted in secrecy, with the people of Scotland given no say whatsoever in choosing their next leader.
“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. The people of Scotland deserve better.”