JOHN Swinney has weighed into the row over who can vote in the SNP leadership race, describing a colleague’s idea as “absolutely ludicrous”.

The deputy First Minister, who has ruled himself out of the contest, said it would be “preposterous” to let recent former members rejoin and take part.

The stinging remarks are likely to shut down calls for the so-called “cut-off date” to be changed, after SNP National Secretary Lorna Finn said it would be February 15.

She said only those who were members on the day Nicola Sturgeon announced her exit would be allowed to vote on who would be her successor.

The party’s ruling body last night said nominations would close on February 24, and if more than one candidate had come forward, the ballot would be from March 13 to 27.

It means Scotland will know the name of the next first minister by the end of next month at the latest, with MSPs expected to confirm that choice a few days later.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf is expected to run, with culture minister Neil Gray, constitution secretary Angus Robertson, finance secretary Kate Forbes and deputy SNP leader Keith Brown all considering whether to join the race.

Ash Regan, who quit as a minister over gender reforms and is hinting she may now stand, yesterday called for members who had quit in the past year to be allowed to rejoin and vote.

That would obviously allow members who quit over gender reforms to vote for Ms Regan.

The call was backed by MP Joanna Cherry KC, who also said people suspended over dubious “transphobia” complaints should be let back in.

Retweeting Ms Regan’s message, Ms Cherry wrote: “I endorse this call. Many women left the party in exasperation as their rights were thrown under the bus. 

“Others left in despair over the #Independence strategy. We need these people back. There should be a moratorium on all resignations over the last 2 years,” she said.

Ms Sturgeon’s father said he “totally disagreed” with the plan.”

Now Mr Swinney has added his opinion, telling BBC Radio Scotland this morning that he didn’t think any former members should vote.

Askked of those who left over gender reforum ought to be able to return and have their say in the leadership, he said: "If people leave the SNP then they obviously can't take in the democratic wishes to the party.

"That's just a completely straightforward point. You have to join a political party to influence its proceedings."

Pressed on whether recent leavers should be able to rejoin and vote, he said: "They can't. I don't think they'll be able to vote now because the membership list will be closed and so it should be.

“We've got a vacancy which was created on Wednesday by the First Minister's resignation.

“And the membership lists at the party should close.

“And if people aren't in at that moment, it would be an absolutely ludicrous proposition that you open your membership lists when you've got a major vacancy of this type.

“It’s just preposterous.”

When UK Labour opened its leadership election to “registered supporters” as well as traditional members, the winner was Jeremy Corbyn.

A Scottish Conservative spokesperson said: “The race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon hasn’t even begun and already senior SNP figures are fighting like ferrets in a sack.

“It will take more than the resignation of the First Minister to heal the bitter divisions that have formed in the SNP, especially those created by Nicola Sturgeon’s reckless self-ID policy.”