ALEX Neil has bowed out of the SNP leadership race with a bitter attack on colleagues for undermining him.

The left-wing MSP for Central Scotland said he had decided not to stand for leader with ''deep regret and reluctance'', but said it was for the greater good of the party.

However, it is understood other SNP figures have requested nomination forms from the party's HQ, and may yet enter the race before nominations close on July 16.

Mr Neil's decision leaves Roseanna Cunningham, Nicola Sturgeon, and Mike Russell vying for the top job. Kenny MacAskill, Fergus Ewing, and Christine Grahame are running for deputy.

Mr MacAskill has already announced his support for Ms Sturgeon, and the pair will today solemnise their political marriage at a joint press conference in Edinburgh.

Despite indicating all last week that he would stand, Mr Neil backed down late on

Saturday, citing a lack of support from senior colleagues, particularly Fergus Ewing, shadow finance minister, and Alex Salmond, the former party leader and SNP chief at


He said: ''I am convinced that, with a good campaign, I can win this leadership contest.

''Of crucial significance, for me, are the public statements made by Alex Salmond and Fergus Ewing to the effect that they wouldn't work with me as leader.

''These comments make it clear that my leadership would be undermined from day one. This would be very damaging to the party. In effect, Alex Salmond and Fergus Ewing have vetoed my candidacy.''

He added the party should press the case for rapid independence and stop its recent ''drift to the right''.

The irony of Mr Neil criticising others for undermining him will not be lost on the many MSPs who blame him for helping precipitate John Swinney's downfall as leader.

One source yesterday said he was so unpopular he would have struggled to form a shadow cabinet if he had won.

However, Mr Neil's exit leaves the contest without a strong candidate from the SNP's fundamentalist wing, a gap which could well leave internal debate about the party's future direction flat and uninspiring.


July 16 Nominations close for leader and deputy leader

August 13 All 8500 members receive ballot papers

August 31 Deadline for return of ballot papers

September 3 Result is announced

September 9 New leader makes debut at first minister's questions