SNP depute leader contender Chris McEleny has called on his party to “surrender the dream of delivering independence” to a new non party grassroots campaign organisation.

The senior Inverclyde councillor made the controversial argument in an article in The National today following a weekend of hustings in Perth, Elgin and Inverness.

READ MORE:‘SNP must hand over indyref goal to a non party body'

He said that if he won the contest he would recommend to party leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that a director must be found to lead a new Yes Scotland campaign now as a priority. He suggested former SNP depute and Westminster leader Angus Robertson as an ideal candidate.

“The SNP must give up its dream of independence if it is to win it,” he wrote, citing the party’s last three parliamentary election results.

“In the 2015 general election the SNP achieved a whopping 50 per cent of the votes across all of Scotland. In the Scottish Parliamentary election, we achieved 46.5 per cent of the vote, in the 2017 Westminster election, 36.9 per cent. If an independence referendum were to be called today and the SNP go it alone and be the official Yes campaign and it’s SNP versus everyone else, we will lose based solely on voting history. We need to think differently.”

McEleny, who is the SNP’s group leader on Inverclyde Council, added: “If I am elected depute leader, I will be recommending to the First Minister that we begin the search the day after our Conference in June to seek out an individual who could set up and lead the journey towards independence. A new team completely independent and free from undue influence of the SNP. This individual will have to have broad shoulders as they would be carrying the weight of world history on them. This could be the last ever independence referendum Scotland has, win or lose.”

Suggesting Robertson, the former Moray MP, as a top candidate for the Yes Scotland role, McEleny, pointed to the former Moray MP’s speech to the SNP’s annual conference last year when he said: “There are 1300... and some days until the next Scottish Parliament election. There will also be a referendum on Scottish independence.”

The current race was triggered in March when Robertson stood down as depute having lost his Westminster seat. Much of the debate in the contest has centred on the timing of a second independence referendum with McEleny arguing for a new vote within 18 months. His rivals Economy Secretary Keith Brown and senior activist Julie Hepburn were both initially reluctant to get drawn into a discussion on the timescale, but have recently made statements on it. Brown has said there will be a new vote in “one or two years”, while Hepburn has insisted the mandate will be exercised during the parliamentary term, which ends in May 2021.

McEleny also suggested other possible names to lead a new Yes campaign – Liz Lloyd the current Chief of Staff to Nicola Sturgeon, respected strategist and former SNP communications director Kevin Pringle, the SNP’s former Westminster Chief of Staff Luke Skipper and journalist Lesley Riddoch. The new depute will be unveiled on June 8, the first day of the SNP’s conference in Aberdeen.

Regional hustings continue until May 13 before the ballot opens on May 18. Around 100,000 SNP members will qualify to be sent ballot papers and asked to rank candidates in order of preference under the single transferable vote system.

Brown, who is MSP for Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, is the most senior politician standing and believed to be the frontrunner.

It is his second time both he and McEleny have taking part in a contest for the role. Brown was defeated in 2014 by the Dundee East MP Stewart Hosie, while Roberston won in 2016, defeating McEleny, Edinburgh East MP Tommy Sheppard and MEP Alyn Smith.