FORMER SNP depute leadership candidate James Dornan apologised to backers yesterday after withdrawing from the race.

The Glasgow Cathcart MSP was the first to put his hat into the ring to replace Angus Robertson as Nicola Sturgeon’s second-in-command.

But at the weekend he said he would no longer contest the post in order to launch a campaign against sectarianism.

Appearing on Broadcast Scotland’s Sunday morning show Full Scottish yesterday, he thanked all those who had endorsed him, saying: "I hope that they’ll forgive me for stepping out the race but I just don’t think I could have done them justice and taken on something that I have been fighting about for forty years.”

The plan for a nationwide anti-bigotry push comes after the politician reported plans for a “Smash a Fenian Day” to Police Scotland.

The move comes after he received a circular appearing to show plans for coordinated violence against Catholics, Muslims and independence supporters. It stated: “We urge all Protestants to stand up and put all Fenians back in their place as it is time for our religion to fight the plastic Irish in our country.”

Yesterday Dornan said: “I have had over the last couple of months, particularly over the last couple of weeks, some of the most vile abuse on social media and email and other ways, including threatening violence against me.”

He went on: “It opened up a window to something I thought had gone to a great extent.”

Describing the decision to pull out of the depute leadership contest, he said: “To be depute leader of the party would have been a fantastic honour. To take it seriously would have involved an awful lot of work, an awful lot of commitment, an awful lot of time, both physically and emotionally.”

He continued: “I would rather spend that time fighting something that I feel very passionately about, and that’s the fight against sectarianism in Scotland.”

Dornan’s decision reduces the field of candidates to just three – Cabinet Secretary Keith Brown, Chris McEleny, leader of the SNP group on Inverclyde Council, and activist Julie Hepburn, the party’s former political education convenor.

Praising all three, Dornan emphasised that he is backing Hepburn for the job.

Dornan said: “I wouldn’t have stepped out the race if I wasn’t happy with the candidates that are still in. I am delighted with the candidates that are still in.

“I think that whoever wins it, the party will be very fortunate to have them as depute leader.”

Citing Brown’s strong platform and describing McEleny as a “voice from the left”, he continued: “For me, Julie’s the one.

“She is so organised and has a plan and she knows what she thinks the party needs and she will take people with her to achieve that.”

Robertson stepped down from the senior role eight months after losing his Moray seat to Tory Douglas Ross in last year’s snap general election.

The decision was made in February, with Robertson stating that the result left him “no longer able to fully discharge [his] mandate”.

In a blog post explaining his position, Dornan, who opposed the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act (OBFA), said: “One of the arguments I have heard over and over again from some members of the public and from the opposition parties when I was defending the OBFA and working on strict liability [a form of tackling sectarianism which makes football clubs more liable] was that we were concentrating too much on tackling sectarianism on the terraces but not where we should be – more deeply within the fabric of society.

“Well, I accept that. That is why I’m setting out my stall here and now.

“From now on, I will be campaigning relentlessly to end the scourge of sectarianism in Scotland.

“My hope is that it should be treated with the same level of disgust as we rightly treat racism, homophobia and sexism.”