KATE Forbes has insisted she has “total confidence” in the SNP leadership contest as one of her supporters hinted that the contest could be rigged.

Former health secretary Alex Neil, a Forbes backer, said there should be “no more deceit” in the leadership race to replace Nicola Sturgeon.

Neil said the party must stop “any chance of the election being rigged” after contender Ash Regan said Sturgeon’s husband, the SNP's chief executive Peter Murrell, should not be in charge of the contest.

The SNP have said the election is being run by national secretary Lorna Finn - not Murrell - and that the process is being carried out independently by the elections company Mi-Voice. 

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Asked if she shared Neil’s concerns, Forbes said that SNP members “don’t like being played” but had confidence that the election is above board.

Speaking on Sky News on Sunday, Regan said: “Effectively he’s [Murrell] running the contest to replace his wife.

“That would be like Carrie [Johnson] counting the votes for Boris’s successor, and I think many people would think that would be fairly unusual. I think there is a conflict of interest here.

“We think it should be an independent third party company running the contest, and we’ve also asked for there to be a neutral observer, just to make sure everything is above board.”

Resharing the clip of Regan on social media, Neil added: “The party MUST stop any chance of the election being rigged. Keep an eye out for past members, lapsed members having their votes cast for them.

“Also the party members are entitled to know exactly how many people are entitled to vote in this election. No more deceit.”

It comes as reports claimed 50,000 SNP members had left the party, with only around 78,000 eligible to vote in the contest as polling opened on Monday.

Asked by The National if she shared Neil’s concerns about a rigged contest, Forbes said: “I have total confidence in the process.”

Forbes said that she was confident due to how “invested” party members have been in the contest. She added: “I think there will be a lot of questions raised if members don’t feel the outcome aligns with what they’re hearing on the ground.

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“With however many tens of thousands of members there are, it's important they get the opportunity to have their say, but they don’t like to be played.

“I think the integrity of the process is important, but I ultimately have confidence in members ensuring that the outcome reflects what they believe should be happening.”

Forbes also insisted she didn’t feel as if she was being played, and the members can “make their mind up”.

She said: “We have very different candidates, and I think the outcome will reflect the preferences of SNP members around who they want to lead Scotland on and the kind of vision they believe in.”

The National: Murrell's role in the contest has been questioned by some candidates and their supportersMurrell's role in the contest has been questioned by some candidates and their supporters

Asked if she believed it was correct for Murrell to stay in post after the leadership election concluded, Forbes said there had been an appetite for a “renewed and fresh approach” amongst the membership.

She added: “It will be for Peter Murrell to determine what role he plays in that.”

It comes as pressure grows on the SNP to reveal how many members the party has ahead of the final ballot.

Forbes, speaking at a campaign event in Glasgow, said she was not surprised by the reports as the party had taken some members “for granted”.

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Asked to elaborate by The National, Forbes added: “What I think is that a party needs to maintain the trust of its members in the same way as it holds the trust of the public.

“No election success is inevitable without maintaining that trust, and the SNP has always won elections on the basis of listening, of serving and maintaining confidence.

“When it comes to members, from a local perspective I know a lot of activists who have left in my constituency, it’s just fact.”

Forbes said some activists had gone to other parties, while others had not, but pointed out they would all still back independence.

She added: “I think that we can refresh and reset our approach to independence and we will all be united around that one goal.”

The Scottish Mail on Sunday reported that SNP membership numbers have fallen as low as 78,000, almost 50,000 below its peak, shortly after the 2014 referendum.