THREE of Nicola Sturgeon’s ministers are facing deselection by party members ahead of the Holyrood election, it has emerged.

Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing and Community Safety minister Ash Denham have all been challenged by local activists.

Mr Denham’s challenger has been encouraged by Kenny MacAskill, the former justice secretary who is now MP for Eat Lothian.

It brings the number of sitting MSPs facing an internal selection battle to ten.

Backbenchers Colin Beattie, James Dornan, Kenny Gibson, Christine Grahame, David Torrance, Stuart McMillan and John Mason also face challenges.

Ms Sturgeon is already guaranteed to lose four of her cabinet next May, when Aileen Campbell, Roseanna Cunningham, Jeane Freeman and Mike Russell are standing down.

The National reported that Ms Somerville, a close ally of Nicola Sturgeon, is being challenged for the SNP candidacy in her Dunfermline and West Fife constituency.

She said: “This is democracy in action, and I think it’s reassuring that the party has so many passionate members across the country who want to get more involved.

“However, I am very confident that I remain the best choice to continue representing this area given my work with thousands of individual constituents and local organisations and businesses over the past session.”

Mr Beattie, who represents Midlothian North and Musselburgh and the SNP’s Treasurer, said challenge was “part of the democratic process”.

He added: “I have proven time after time that I win elections and always drive up the SNP vote doubling my majority at the last election.

“I have a solid record of bringing in new jobs and saving existing jobs.

“Constituents receive dedicated and effective service from myself and my great team. With so many veteran parliamentarians standing down my experience will be much needed.”

Activist Irshad Ahmed told the National he was challenging Ms Denham in Edinburgh Eastern as she wasn’t “pushing for independence”.

He said:“Ash may be popular in the area, but after speaking to local members, they want to push for independence, which doesn’t seem to be on Ash’s agenda.”

Mr MacAskill shared Mr Ahmed’s announcement on social media and commented “good man”.

Sitting SNP MSPs have been challenged for the candidacy in the past but are rarely unseated.

However in 2016, Mairi Gougeon took the nomination from Nigel Don in Angus and won, while Toni Giuliani replaced Colin Keir in Edinburgh Western and lost.

The challenges are part of a record turnover for Holyrood in 2021, with 28 MSPs leaving and 37 of the SNP’s 73 seats seeing internal battles for the candidacy.