PETE Wishart has ruled himself out of the SNP’s deputy leadership race, admitting he does not think he has sufficient support to win the role.

The Perth and North Perthshire MP said he was not prepared to duck issues in order to gain support, adding: “I will always speak out on what I believe is in the best interests of my country.”

It comes after activist Julie Hepburn became the first woman to put her name forward for the position vacated by Angus Robertson, who lost his seat last year.

In a statement, Mr Wishart said: “I said when I was considering standing for the depute leadership of the SNP that I would take soundings from colleagues within the party and across the membership before making up my mind to have my name put forward.

“After listening very carefully to the response to my agenda I have decided that I do not believe that I have sufficient support within the party and I will not now be standing for the post of depute leader of the Scottish National Party.

“Making Scotland a better place to live and work and securing independence for my nation are the issues that determine my approach to politics and I will continue to offer everything I can to ensure that agenda is progressed.”

He said his agenda would have focused on designing a new “independence offering”, as well as attempting to secure support from Leave voters who favour independence by promoting a gradual approach to rejoining the EU in the event of a Yes vote.

He also called for a “proper, honest assessment of why we lost 21 MPs last year”, alongside a pragmatic approach to the timing of a future independence referendum.

He added: “I firmly believe that a referendum should take place at the optimum time for success taking into account external features such as the increasing concerns around Brexit, and to proceed only when we have sufficient evidence that it could be won.”

Mr Wishart is one of Scotland’s longest-serving MPs, alongside the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ Alistair Carmichael, and is a former member of Scottish rock bands Runrig and Big Country.

His decision to rule himself out of the deputy leadership race leaves James Dornan MSP and Ms Hepburn as the only candidates to put their names forwards so far.

But a number of party figures are expected to seek nominations next month, including left-winger Tommy Sheppard MP.

SNP frontbenchers Dr Philippa Whitford and Joanna Cherry have also been named as potential candidates, but it is understood both could stand aside if Mr Sheppard runs.

Elsewhere, Livingston MP Hannah Bardell said she was considering standing, while deputy Westminster leader Kirsty Blackman and Glasgow Provan MSP Ivan McKee have also been floated as potential runners.

Ian Blackford, the party’s current Westminster leader, ruled himself out last week – insisting it is “too much to ask” alongside his other commitments.