MICHAEL Russell has accused Labour of trying to interfere in the SNP leadership race.

The charge came as he hit back at Jackie Baillie after she expressed fears over the integrity of the vote. 

The Scottish Labour deputy leader wrote to the SNP president on Monday, copying in the Electoral Commission, seeking confirmation that the processes used for the contest would be "fully protected against hacking and interference."

She also asked if the ballot would "be entirely independent of the party" and if Chief Executive Peter Murrell - husband of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon - would "excuse himself from the process entirely."

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The Dumbarton MSP also questioned the technology being used, asking if the voting system matched the standards legally required of trade union ballots and if the results would "be published in full."

In his response, Mr Russell welcomed what he described as Ms Baillie’s “implicit support for the democratic process.”

He said it was “particularly notable given your previous refusal to accept that universal norm with regard to the clear mandate gained by the SNP in successive elections for the holding of an independence referendum.

“That is an unexpected, but happy, conversion, and I hope you will now use your new enthusiasm to good effect by arguing within the Labour Party and the Scottish Parliament for Scotland’s right to choose, joining forces with whoever is elected as First Minister at the end of this month.”

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He said the SNP had “for many years ensured that members are well served by arranging independently run and verified internal elections.”

The former minister said the company contracted to run the vote had done so to the “highest standards”  and had undertaken Trade Union elections.

He added that it was National Secretary Lorna Finn rather than Mr Murrell who controls the party’s elections.

“You will therefore be pleased to acknowledge the absolute guarantee that whoever wins will do so as a result of a free, fair and open contest in keeping with best practice for such ballots.

“Finally, I can assure you that as a party we are fully aware of our heavy responsibilities at this time, given that the person elected will not only be our leader, but will also be our nominee for the post of First Minister.

“Consequently. we will firmly resist any and all interference in these matters including rejecting every attempt at publicity-seeking grandstanding, such as is contained in your letter.”

Labour has been approached for a comment.