DEPUTY First Minister John Swinney has said he does not understand why there is a row around the SNP leadership ballot, insisting he is “100%” sure it is being conducted properly.

The former SNP leader, who is backing Humza Yousaf in the race, commented after Kate Forbes and Ash Regan called for independent auditors to be brought in to oversee the vote.

Party members are currently voting for who they want to take over from Nicola Sturgeon as leader in a ballot which opened on Monday and is due to close on March 27.

However, on Wednesday all three camps made public calls for the SNP to publish membership figures to ensure transparency in the race. And later that same day, Forbes and Regan called for auditors to be brought in.

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Michelle Thomson – who is running the Forbes campaign – said some concerns are “based on hearsay or are from bad faith actors”, but she added: “However, others are being openly expressed by individuals within the SNP of longstanding.”

She argued that the fact questions are being asked at all “can only further undermine trust in SNP HQ”.

Kirk Torrance, who is advising Regan, said on Twitter: “Independent auditors will give reassurance to the SNP members and the general public that this ballot is conducted properly. This should have been the case from the outset.”

The election process is being carried out by Mi-Voice, an election services firm based in Southampton.

The National: John Swinney

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland on Thursday, Swinney (above) said the firm had a “professional reputation to deliver ballot services effectively and without question”.

He went on: “My experience, and I have got a lot of experience of elections within the SNP, I have been a candidate in many of them, I ran many of them as the party secretary over many years.

“I have also seen this process we are going through just now operating in the election of previous deputy leaders of the party … and nobody, nobody, has raised an issue about the authority of those processes.

“They have been completely straightforward, efficient, independently organised processes, and this is exactly the same.

“So I don’t know what this is all about.”

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Asked if he is satisfied the election is being conducted “entirely properly”, Swinney said: “100%.”

It comes the day after pressure intensified on the party to release its membership numbers.

SNP accounts published by the Electoral Commission last summer put the party on 104,000 members in December 2021, although reports suggest 78,000 online ballot papers have been sent out in the current leadership election.

All three candidates have called for the publication of the figures, with Regan writing a letter to SNP chief executive Peter Murrell on behalf of herself and Forbes saying the “information is crucial to fostering trust and confidence among the candidates, their campaign teams, and the party members who are participating in the election”.

Regan has issued an ultimatum, saying that she will hold a press conference to escalate the issue further if her concerns are not addressed by 3pm on Thursday.

Neil Gray, who is campaign manager for Yousaf, said: “Humza’s campaign team also asked for the figures to be published and sought assurances this would be done as soon as possible.”

Members of the SNP’s ruling National Executive Committee will be asked for their views on Thursday to decide if the numbers should be published.

An SNP spokesperson rebuffed pressure to publish the data on Wednesday. They said: “Candidates have already been made aware that responsibility for the leadership election does not rest with any member of staff.”

It is understood that the party planned to release vote numbers and turnout, from which membership could be extrapolated, after the announcement of the winner.