KEITH Brown is the bookies' favourite to be the next depute leader of the SNP, though the race looks set to be tight.

Nominations to be Nicola Sturgeon’s number two closed yesterday morning, with the already declared Brown, Julie Hepburn and Chris McEleny all confirming they’d be standing to replace Angus Robertson.

The National asked prominent supporters of each candidate to tell us why their pick for the top job should win.

Former MP Margaret Ferrier said she thought Brown would work well with the First Minister, but wouldn’t “need to check everything off with her”.

Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss said Hepburn would be “able to dedicate the time to the task in hand”.

Councillor Russel Robertson said McEleny would improve “links between local authorities and the Scottish Government”.

Around 100,000 SNP members will have a vote in the contest, though in 2016 just a third of voters returned their ballot papers.

The winner will be declared at the SNP’s conference in Aberdeen on June 8.

Ladbrokes were yesterday predicting a tight race, but had Brown as the favourite at 5/4. McEleny up next at 6/4 and Hepburn next on 5/2.

The contest has so far been dominated by the timing of the second independence referendum.

McEleny made clear a vote for him would be a vote in favour of an independence referendum within the next 18 months.

The Inverclyde councillor came fourth in the last depute leadership election, securing 1182 votes, around 3.4 per cent of the total, but his pitch this time round may resonate far more with a membership mostly made up of people who joined the party after the first independence referendum.

“If SNP members vote for me they have the opportunity to make their voices heard that they, like me, believe that we should have a referendum on Scottish independence within the next 18 months,” McEleny said.

Hepburn, who is little known outside the party, has attracted support from some of the SNP’s big names, including people close to Sturgeon.

She promised to empower members: “The party doesn’t need just one more high-profile voice to speak for us; we need to empower over 100,000 voices and mobilise our mass membership and wider independence movement to build a renewed case for independence.”

Keith Brown is the highest profile of all three candidates. The former Royal Marine who has been the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work in the Scottish Government is well known to members, and is well respected among colleagues.

He asked voters to trust his experience.

“I’ve got 30 years experience as a party activist and nearly a decade in the Scottish Government and I’m looking forward to the job of making sure that every member get a chance to contribute to the party’s policies and direction.”

The SNP’s Derek Mackay welcomed the nominations: “Amid the chaos and catastrophe at Westminster, this is a time for us to focus on hope and our ambition for Scotland,” he said.

A number of the favourites, including Pete Wishart and Joanna Cherry ruled themselves out of the contest very early on.

Tommy Sheppard, the Edinburgh East MP, who came second to Robertson in 2016, said being depute leader would restrict his ability to intervene in debates about the SNP’s future policy direction.