PHILIPPA Whitford is the latest high profile figure in the SNP to rule herself out from standing in the forthcoming contest to become depute leader.

The Central Ayrshire MP and breast cancer surgeon, who is prominent in the wider Yes movement, was being tipped as a likely contender in the race to succeed Angus Robertson.

However, she has now told The National she will not be putting her name forward.

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“I’m not going to stand. I’m not one of those people who thought [the new depute has] got to be an MP. I did give it some thought but I’m already being asked to go around the country to speak at SNP meetings, Yes meetings and Women for Independence meetings – and that is where I want to put my energies.”

Economy Secretary Keith Brown became the third contender in the contest when he announced his decision to stand via The National yesterday and is now regarded as the favourite to win. He said he wanted to help get the party read for “any future referendums”.

The former Royal Marine is the most senior figure in the party to so far come forward, and joins Glasgow Cathcart MSP James Dornan and well-known activist Julie Hepburn.

Brown said that since Robertson stepped down last month he had been approached by party members, councillors, MSPs and MPs asking him to stand. He said if successful he would like to drive through internal party reforms to improve engagement and involvement of grassroots members.

“The massive increase in party membership since indyref1 means we have to change our structures to engage and involve every member. The depute leader will have to drive the internal reforms already underway to get us ready to take the SNP’s positive and progressive vision forward.

“We modernised the party under John Swinney’s leadership, proved ourselves effective in government under Alex Salmond, and we’re creating a better country under Nicola Sturgeon. The SNP has come a long way but we have a long way still to go and we’ve got to get geared up for the journey,” he added.

The Clackmannanshire and Dunblane MSP was first elected to Holyrood in 2007 after previously serving as a local councillor for 11 years. He was the leader of Clackmannanshire Council from 1999 to 2003. Before his career in politics he was a member of the Royal Marines, serving in the Falklands War.

Two other high-profile figures ruled themselves out of the contest over the weekend. Edinburgh East Tommy Sheppard, who lost out to Robertson in the 2016 depute election, and Edinburgh South West MP Joanna Cherry QC, the party’s home affairs spokeswoman at Westminster, announced they would not stand.

Writing in the Sunday Herald, Sheppard said he is “much more at ease as a protagonist than a referee” and was also keen to strike a better work life balance.

Cherry said she had received support to stand, but decided against the move.

Ian Blackford, the party’s leader at Westminster, Scotland’s longest serving MP Pete Wishart and Finance Secretary Derek Mackay have already ruled themselves out.

A timetable for the contest was due to be set out following a meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee last Saturday.

However, the meeting was postponed because of the adverse weather and is due to take place this weekend.

The new depute leader is expected to be announced at the party’s conference in Aberdeen in June.