INVERCLYDE'S MSP is staying tight-lipped on the challenge from a prominent local SNP rival to be the party's constituency candidate at next year's Scottish Parliament election.

Stuart McMillan has refused to comment on the move by nationalist council group leader Chris McEleny, who threw down the gauntlet with a series of pledges in Thursday's Telegraph.

The Tele understands there is disquiet within the party that the contest could prove to be damaging.

Mr McMillan — who has served as Inverclyde's Holyrood representative since 2016 and been a parliamentarian for 13 years — declared that his focus right now is on coronavirus.

In a brief one-line statement issued through his constituency office, he said: "My focus today is about the Covid-19 cluster in Port Glasgow and I will make a statement about re-selection in due course."

However, a fiercely contested race between the two SNP men now appears certain following Councillor McEleny's announcement.

Launching his bid, Mr McEleny said: "It would be the privilege of my life to represent our whole community in our nation's parliament.

"Inverclyde has so much potential and re-industrialising our waterfront to create quality jobs and attract much needed investment into the area would be one of my top priorities as part of a wider strategy of reducing the levels of deprivation in our area and increasing the quality of life for everyone."

But it appears that the local party could be split down the middle by any contest between the two, which could be a bruising one.

A source told the Telegraph: "Those who follow Ronnie [Cowan MP] will be absolutely delighted, but those who follow McMillan will be saying, 'You've got to be kidding me'.

"Stuart is the sitting constituency MSP for crying out loud.

"You just don't mess with a sitting MSP.

"If it gets dirty then the voters will remember that when they go to the polls."

The source added: "I would imagine the local Labour party will be buoyed by this."

Labour have selected Francesca Brennan to fight the seat.