THIS spring will see the third SNP Depute Leader contest in four years. It is not yet clear who the runners and riders will be, or indeed whether there will even be a contest. ‘Senior party sources’ have been quoted endlessly pushing one or other narrative. We’ve already had the ‘coronation narrative’, rapidly followed by the ‘backlash against the coronation narrative’, along with more name dropping and fence-sitting than is good for your average fence.

The coming days and weeks will deliver more clarity on the field, but perhaps not on what the role itself actually entails. The party constitution doesn’t help, merely stating that the role of depute is to step in as interim leader should the role of leader fall vacant. One thing we do know is that were that unfortunate situation to arise the role of First Minister would almost certainly fall to the current Deputy First Minister, so no one expects whoever is elected as Depute Leader to be filling any governmental role.

The last contest, in 2016, saw each of the four candidates put forward a different job description. At one hustings it was suggested by an imaginative party member that perhaps the best answer was to create four depute roles – for ‘Organisation’, ‘Local Government’, ‘Europe’ and ‘Westminster’ and allow all of the candidates to get on with implementing their, largely complementary, manifestos.

We are no further forward now in terms of understanding what the role entails. Certainly those who expect it to be a job, rather than just a title, would look back over the past 18 months with some disappointment. Little, if anything, has been done that would not have been done by those already in other posts.

Those on the other hand who see it as more of an honorary title, a reward for services rendered elsewhere in the party, extra syllables that add more gravitas to media appearances, wouldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. There is work to be done; to get the party, and the movement, fighting fit for the next electoral challenges – whenever those might be. To build the organisation, to strengthen the links between SNP and Yes groups, to coordinate campaign tactics and strategies. To communicate with groups and branches up and down the country. Whether that work is the role of the Depute Leader, or of someone else, is something that needs to be clarified.

If Depute Leader is yet again to become a de-facto addendum to the Westminster Leader’s job title, then it sets a precedent for future vacancies that will be hard to break. It effectively means that the choice of Depute Leader is left to the SNP MP group, rather than the party membership as a whole. That is perhaps not the route that does the most to strengthen party structures and democracy.

Whatever happens a coronation serves no one well. The SNP is not short of talented people. To ask those already in top leadership roles to take on additional key responsibilities, is something that much smaller organisations do because they have no choice.

That is not the position the SNP finds itself in. The question we should ask, before we start weighing up the merits or otherwise of candidates, is what kind of job do we need the Depute Leader to be in order to deliver success at the ballot box. Answering the ‘what’ will make it easier to figure out the ‘who’.