SNP office-bearers in the Cunninghame North constituency in Ayrshire have today called for every one of the party’s sitting MSPs to face a selection contest ahead of the 2021 election – even their own.

Kenneth Gibson has represented Cunninghame North since 2007.

At the last election, he secured 51.9% of the vote, with the second-placed Tories far behind on 24.6%.

But his local constituency association has issued an urgent call for other candidates to make a bid to represent the area in next year’s Scottish Parliament race. Office bearers say this would mark “a return to the party’s democratic traditions”.

It could see Gibson lose the chance to run for the seat he’s held for 13 years.

And while much attention has been given to who will run in the seats where veteran SNP politicians are standing down – including Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, which Jeane Freeman will exit, and East Kilbride, where Linda Fabiani will retire – the association says no incumbent should be allowed to stand without a challenge.

Any hopeful who wants to take on a sitting MSP has until tomorrow night to do so.

Dr Malcolm Kerr, organiser of Cunninghame North Constituency Association, said: “With Scotland on the cusp of independence, we should be thinking long and hard about who we send to Holyrood as our MSPs.

“A political party has every right to seek and retain power to govern. But the SNP has much more to do than that. We need to ensure that the right people are in place to take us to independence. We are familiar with long-standing incumbents who will, fairly, describe themselves as hard-working’. That, however, is the very least we are entitled to expect.

“Do they have the qualities we need to take us forward through an imminent referendum? Are they working co-operatively with the party’s branches, local councillors and activists? Are they reaching out to the wider Yes movement? How will they appeal to voters who are now wavering? What are their core values?

“We need a ‘festival of democracy’ in the SNP. In North Ayrshire we expect an interesting and stimulating contest, and hope that our current MSP won’t be the only one to put his hat in the ring.”

Councillor Jean McClung of the party’s Ardrossan Branch – vice-convener of the constituency association – commented: “We choose our MSPs, they don’t choose us. It is an abject failure for internal democracy that so few sitting MSPs are challenged. Debate is good for the party, good for party members, and should be a positive experience for all the candidates involved, win or lose.

“It’s one important way we can avoid the complacency and entitlement culture which Labour parliamentarians had in decades gone by.”

Helen Stewart, political education officer at the SNP Cumbrae branch, said: “We have a wealth of talent in this party and we should put up the best people we can find. Holyrood is not the Lords, and MSPs shouldn’t expect a job for life. There should be contests in all constituencies.”

Those who have passed vetting have until tomorrow to declare an interest in specific constituencies, with the candidates in each seat to be declared by national secretary Angus MacLeod by September 18.

But it’s understood that the volume of hopefuls who have put themselves forwards for vetting means that process is running late.

The party has said it has had a “terrific response” to its call for candidate applications and “it takes time to give them all robust consideration”.

There are currently 61 SNP MSPs, including Nicola Sturgeon.

At least one prospective candidate has emerged to challenge a sitting MSP so far, with former MP Roger Mullin declaring his interest in the Kirkcaldy seat that’s been held by David Torrance since 2011.

Gibson announced his decision to seek re-selection at the end of August, when he said he agreed with Sturgeon’s assertion that the ballot will be “the most important in Scotland’s history”.

He said: “We cannot allow the Tories to ignore the desire of the Scottish people’s right to choose a Scotland that is more prosperous, vibrant, secure and equal. Defeating the Covid-19 pandemic, rebuilding our economy and securing independence while working hard for constituents is my key focus. I will do so to the best of my ability, as I always have, using my 24 years of experience as an elected SNP councillor and MSP.”

However, he reacted with surprise when told about the call and said the constituency association had “decided no such thing”. “The matter has never even been raised, let alone discussed at any Cunninghame North CA meeting,” he said.

An SNP spokesperson said: “We’ve never had automatic reselection for MSPs. If there is a contest in Cunninghame North, then it’ll be for all SNP members to have their say on who the candidate should be.”