SNP rebel Fergus Ewing has called for his party not to stand in the Western Isles to prevent the risk of Labour “winning by the back door”.

Current MP Angus MacNeil is sitting as an independent after being expelled by the SNP and is expected to contest his seat at the General Election on the same basis. 

In a statement, Ewing said the SNP fielding a candidate in the Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency at the next election would split the pro-independence vote and allow Labour to win – and suggested his party should instead back MacNeil.

However, a spokesperson for the party shot down the idea, saying the SNP will stand in every Scottish constituency at the next General Election.

In September, Ewing was suspended from the SNP for a week after criticising the party leadership and voting against the Government in a no-confidence motion.

READ MORE: Angus MacNeil: My sheep show more independence of thought than SNP

The Inverness and Nairn MSP praised MacNeil (below), who has supported Alba Party MPs Neale Hanvey and Kenny MacAskill as part of a group called Scotland United for Independence.

Ewing said: “If the SNP put up a candidate against Angus, it will merely assist the prospect of a Labour victory in the constituency by splitting the independence vote.

“It makes great sense politically, therefore, for the SNP not to put up a candidate, but instead fully to support Angus in his campaign.

The National:

“Anything less will be likely to cause damage to the cause of independence – a cause which is of course far bigger than the party itself.”

Such a move, the former Scottish rural affairs secretary said, would “demonstrate, on the part of our First Minister (Humza Yousaf), a generosity of spirit, and magnanimity towards those who support independence but are not in the SNP: a ‘broad church’ approach – all of which would reflect well upon him”.

Ewing also cited the example of the party’s stance on John Goodlad – a candidate standing for the Orkney and Shetland Movement in the constituency in 1987 – when the SNP stood aside.

The move was supported by Ewing’s mother, SNP icon Winnie Ewing, who died this year.

Ewing suggested SNP members in the Western Isles should be balloted on backing MacNeil.

He added: “I understand that the UK General Election candidate selection process is under way, and therefore I urge Humza, (SNP president) Michael Russell and the whole SNP NEC to be ‘big enough’ to do what is right for Scotland and our cause.

READ MORE: Scottish independence poll: 54% back Yes in new Ipsos survey

“Back Angus – and don’t take the risk of helping Labour win by the back door.”

However spokesperson for the SNP said: “As with all elections, the SNP will be standing candidates in all Scottish constituencies in the upcoming General Election.

“At the next general election, voting SNP is the only way to stand up for Scotland, secure real help with the cost of living, and offer people the chance to build a better future as an independent country.”

The current Scottish Labour candidate for the seat is former Daily Record Westminster editor Torcuil Crichton.