THE chaplain to the Queen has been named as a candidate for the office of Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

The Rev James Gibson, 56, was announced as a contender yesterday. Also in the running is the controversial character of Erik Cramb, considered an outsider because his views are often seen as radical.

Mr Gibson has a wife, Doreen, and a son and daughter. He was educated at Daniel Stewart's College and Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities.

The Rev Ron Ferguson, a columnist with The Herald and commentator on the Kirk, said: ''James Gibson was involved in the task force for change when he was making proposals about how ministers would be called to parishes and changes in how that is done in the future so, to that degree, he's a moderniser.

''He is a strange mixture of being really quite conservative but also a moderniser in the context of changing the way manpower is distributed in the church. For me, Erik is the most interesting of the candidates, but he will be considered an outsider.''

Preaching does not get much more prestigious than the historic post of Queen's Chaplain. Recognised by their deep crimson robes, or cassocks, those elevated to the job are required to preach annually at the Chapels Royal, principally St James's Palace, and attend the Queen's gatherings for all 37 incumbents, at Holyrood House and Sandringham.

The moderator chairs meetings of the general assembly and leads daily worship, keeps order, rules on points of order, and signs documents on behalf of the assembly. The role is an honorary one, held for a year, and he or she travels around the country as a representative of the Kirk.

At least two former chaplains to the Queen have been moderator. In the 1990s, the late Very Rev Dr Donald Selby Wright, a former moderator, was also chaplain to the Queen. Iain Torrance, moderator in 2003, became chaplain to the Queen in 2001.

Mr Gibson was a probationer assistant at Paisley Abbey between 1977-78, was at Grangemouth Parish Church between 1979-89, and has been minister at Bothwell Parish Church.

Five men were nominated yesterday as candidates for the office. Last year, both contenders on the short list were female, which prompted some in the Kirk to suggest moves had been made to ensure the assembly would have its first female moderator.

However, the church rejected the notion that naming Dr Alison Elliot as the first female moderator was a token gesture in the face of mounting pressure to appoint a woman.

Marjory MacLean, depute clerk to the general assembly, said yesterday that each member of the nominations committee chooses a candidate in secret before the names are announced.

She said: ''There is no mandate to have a particular number of red-haired people or a particular number of people who happen to possess wombs or a particular number of people with one leg.

''The committee thinks who might be an appropriate person to be a moderator and comes up with a number of people. Last year, there happened to be no men. I remember it being said last year that Alison Elliot would give a run for their money to any man.

''You just have all these nominations coming in entirely blind therefore it is just happenstance how it falls out.''

The candidates

l Reverend James Gibson, 56, chaplain to the Queen

l The Rev Peter Neilson, 56, mission developments facilitator at Kirk headquarters in Edinburgh

l The Rev David Lacy, 52, minister at Henderson Parish Church in Kilmarnock

l The Rev Loudon Blair, 64, minister at Galston, Ayrshire

l The Rev Erik Cramb, 64, national industrial mission organiser with the Kirk