TURNOUT in the SNP depute leadership contest fell to around 26 per cent, fuelling claims that party members have become apathetic over the leadership’s caution on a second independence referendum.

It has also emerged that around 103,000 people were eligible to vote in the recent three-candidate race, despite the official membership figure in April standing at 118,000.

SNP members have voted in two depute leadership contests since 2016. In the earlier election, Angus Robertson defeated MP Tommy Sheppard, MEP Alyn Smith and councillor Chris McEleny to become Nicola Sturgeon’s number two.

At the time, the SNP put out a press release with the result as well the number of votes cast and the turnout, which stood at 33.9 per cent.

Robertson’s resignation this year triggered another contest, which pitted Cabinet Secretary Keith Brown, activist Julie Hepburn and McEleny against each other.

Although the SNP announced Brown as the winner, further details about the contest were not provided.

The Sunday Herald understands the number of members who voted in the election stood at nearly 26,800 which, on a turnout of over 26 per cent, means around 103,000 people were eligible to vote.

However, a House of Commons briefing paper published in May stated: “In April 2018, SNP membership was around 118,000, compared to 25,000 in December 2013.”

It is believed the gap between the 103,000 “eligible” voters and the 118,000 members is explained by under 16s not being able to vote, as well as people whose subscriptions are not fully up to date.

While nearly 26,800 members took part in this year’s contest, the figure in 2016 was closer to 35,000. One senior SNP source said a number of members were happy to have a party card as a symbol of their commitment, but were not interested in internal elections.

A second insider said the First Minister’s perceived caution on a second independence referendum had created a “vacuum” and the “conditions for apathy”.

However, the SNP received a boost last week after announcing that over 7,000 people had joined following the row at Westminster over the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

Westminster group leader Ian Blackford led a walkout of SNP MPs as a protest at what he believed was the UK Government’s disrespect for devolution.

Although the SNP provided rolling updates on the number of new recruits, the party has not confirmed its total membership number in the wake of the rise. After the Blackford row, the SNP wrote to former members asking them to rejoin.

Asked whether any of the 7,000 were individuals in arrears, the SNP press office did not respond.

An SNP spokesperson said: “Keith Brown achieved an impressive 55 per cent of eligible votes and is already hard at work in opposing the Tory power grab, which this week sparked a further surge in SNP membership.”