A PROMINENT SNP MSP has pulled out as a candidate in his party’s depute leadership contest in order to launch a campaign against sectarianism.

James Dornan, who contacted the police recently after receiving a sectarian 'Smash a Fenian Day' circular, said he could not combine the “hard work, time and commitment” necessary for his campaign with a leadership post.

Speaking to the Sunday Herald, he said: "It’s with some regret that I’ve decided to stand down from the race for depute leader of the SNP. Over the last few weeks I’ve decided that I want to use whatever energy I have to fight the ongoing curse of sectarianism in Scottish society. I don’t believe I could do both and give them justice."

The withdrawal means the contest is now a three-horse race between Cabinet Secretary Keith Brown, councillor Chris McEleny and party member Julie Hepburn. Dornan is backing Hepburn.

Dornan, who represents Glasgow Cathcart and is convener of Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee, was the first candidate to declare in the race. In an interview he said that a Yes vote in a second independence referendum could be achieved as soon as 2019 or 2020.

The MSP opposed the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act (OBFA), legislation passed by the Parliament in the last term that clamped down on sectarianism. The legislation was unpopular as it was accused of singling out football fans, and a majority of MSPs recently voted to scrap the act.

In a blog to be published this morning, Dornan writes: “One of the arguments I have heard over and over again from some members of the public and from the opposition parties when I was defending the OBFA and working on strict liability [a form of tackling sectarianism which makes football clubs more liable], was that we were concentrating too much on tackling sectarianism on the terraces but not where we should be – more deeply within the fabric of society.

“Well, I accept that. That is why I’m setting out my stall here and now. From now on, I will be campaigning relentlessly to end the scourge of sectarianism in Scotland. My hope is that it should be treated with the same level of disgust as we rightly treat racism, homophobia and sexism.”

He added: “This will entail a lot of hard work, time and commitment and it is for that reason that I have decided to step down from the depute leadership race.

“I am in the world of politics, and I’m well aware of the chatter and gossip that will come surrounding my withdrawal. Of course, people are entitled to draw their own conclusions. You know, there is an old phrase ‘you cannot be all things to all men’ and I have decided that what I want to be, even more than depute leader of the SNP, is someone who will tackle this shame on our country.”

Dornan added that leadership hopeful Hepburn has a “heart for the people of Scotland and for social justice” and he backed her for the deputy contest: “Her work ethic and commitment to people is remarkable. Her organisational skills and ability to get on with everyone is second to none. And it is for these reasons, and many others, that I have decided to give her my full and unwavering support.”