WHEN the National asked me to write about the SNP’s National Executive Committee (NEC) selection rules for Scottish Parliament candidates, I thought long and hard before saying yes. As a former member of the NEC, my instinct is that internal party matters should remain confidential to members. But clearly they are not confidential. They are, in fact, the talk of the steamie. This is one of the more unexpected outcomes of becoming a mass membership party with high levels of support – people are a lot more interested in our internal goings-on than they used to be.

So, at the risk of incurring the National Secretary’s ire, let me share my views. These are my opinions and mine alone and I have not discussed them with any members of the NEC. The rules for selecting Scottish Parliament candidates are available for all SNP members to download on the Members section of the party’s website.

I was pleased to see the NEC give effect to Conference decisions on gender balance and diversity. Nine seats vacated by SNP parliamentarians will have all-women shortlists and in other seats, where there is a contest, the NEC may add additional candidates from underrepresented groups (women, BAME and disabled people) to ensure the widest choice for members selecting candidates.

Perhaps the most contentious aspect is the NEC ruling on MPs who wish to contest Holyrood constituency seats. Media coverage of this has focussed on the Edinburgh Central constituency but I understand that a number of MPs are interested in standing for Holyrood. The decision was not, therefore, only about one seat.

This was a new issue for the NEC. In 1999 all of the SNP’s sitting MPs stood for Holyrood. But since then the only MP to do so was Alex Salmond. There was a compelling reason for this – he was party leader and standing to be First Minister. There is no such compelling reason now.

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I completely understand why MPs might want to stand for the Scottish Parliament rather than remaining at Westminster and I have every sympathy for them. Being a Scottish MP is a really tough gig. But clearly the potential consequences of allowing MPs to contest Holyrood seats must be considered.

An unknown number of Westminster by-elections, following a Holyrood election, would result in a significant demand on party resources, both financial and human. We must also remember that Westminster and Holyrood constituencies are not coterminous. Some Holyrood constituencies sit neatly within a Westminster constituency but others do not. So potentially there could be a disconnect between the SNP members selecting an MP as their candidate and the SNP members who would have to fund and fight a by-election caused by their resignation. This is not ideal.

We must also consider the cost to the public purse. You can’t put a price on democracy - but you can bet your boots our political opponents would put an exact price on any by-elections caused by SNP MPs standing down after being elected as MSPs. And they would present those by-elections as being held to accommodate the career choices of SNP politicians. We might struggle to justify this in my view.

As I said, I have not discussed this with any NEC members but I imagine these considerations played some part in their thinking. The decision they eventually arrived at – after a reported four hour meeting – was to allow MPs to contest Holyrood seats provided they resign as MPs prior to the Westminster Easter recess. This would allow by-elections to take place on the same day as the Scottish Parliament vote, minimising the cost to both the party and the taxpayer.

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I understand that people may strongly disagree on this. But the NEC position is not unreasonable, even if you do disagree. A balance must be struck between respecting individual choices, which is important, and the demands that flow from those choices onto the wider party and onto the public purse. Having reflected on it, I think the solution arrived at by the NEC was correct.

It was a tough call. Whatever decision NEC members took, there would have been strong objections. That is the nature of being a member of a committee of this sort – sometimes you have to make really difficult decisions and you will become someone’s bad guy, no matter which choice you make. But the NEC’s authority to make these decisions, which is derived directly from the members who elect them, needs to be respected. Politicians making their own selection rules would be in nobody’s interests – and I say that as a politician.