MICHAEL Russell has warned Scottish Labour to keep out of the SNP’s leadership contest after deputy leader Jackie Baillie raised questions over the party’s “ability to conduct [the] race fairly and honestly”.

The SNP president has written to Baillie accusing her of “grandstanding” over the party’s procedures.

It comes after Baillie wrote to both Russell and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell warning that “murky internal politics” could derail the process.

“If anyone is expected to believe the SNP can govern with integrity and openness, then these principles must be at the heart of this race,” wrote Baillie.

The National: Jackie Baillie MSP

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"The SNP must respond to these serious questions and protect against corruption in this race."

In a response on Wednesday, the SNP grandee refuted Baillie’s “false assertions”.

“In fact the party has for many years ensured that members are well served by arranging independently run and verified internal elections and, when contested, candidate selections as well,” he informed the MSP.

Referring to the independent firm overseeing the contest, Russell said: “The same company has been contracted for a decade or more to run these elections and does so to the highest standards. It is in fact also accredited to undertake trade union elections.”

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Russell assured Baillie that SNP national secretary Lorna Finn has the confidence of elected office bearers, and the party is “fully aware” of its serious responsibilities in the search for Scotland’s new first minister.

“Consequently we will firmly resist any and all interference in these matters including rejecting every attempt at publicity seeking grandstanding, such as is contained in your letter,” he concluded.

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Elsewhere in his response, Russell pointed out Labour’s “implicit support for the democratic process” – something at odds with the party’s refusal to accept the SNP and Green’s mandate for holding another referendum.

He told the party’s deputy leader: “That is an unexpected, but happy, conversion, and I hope you will now use your new enthusiasm to good effect by arguing within the Labour Party and the Scottish Parliament for Scotland’s right to choose.”