INVERCLYDE'S MP has today insisted he will sit on the fence in the contest between two local SNP heavyweights for the party's candidacy in the upcoming Holyrood election.

Ronnie Cowan says the suggestion he has a preference between sitting MSP Stuart McMillan and rival Chris McEleny is wrong.

He spoke out after a source had told the Tele that Mr McEleny's decision to try and oust Mr McMillan would leave 'those who follow Ronnie absolutely delighted' and dismay the sitting MSP's backers.

Mr Cowan said: "I was extremely disappointed to read speculation in the Greenock Telegraph regarding my views on the competition within the Greenock and Inverclyde SNP branch to nominate a candidate for the Holyrood election 2021.

"The Tele source - somebody with an opinion about me but without the courage or commitment to be named - seems to think I have expressed a preference.

"I have not and I will not.

"The source is simply making stuff up to create division."

Mr Cowan has also rejected the idea that the contest could create friction within the local party and prove damaging.

He said: "We welcome open honest robust debate within the party.

"It makes us stronger.

"Once we have followed the due process the local branch members will vote, in October, for their candidate.

"I will not seek to influence anyone's vote during this process.

"Once we have a candidate we shall all get behind that person in a united, cohesive campaign to retain the seat for the SNP."

SNP council group leader Mr McEleny announced last week that he will be seeking to replace Mr McMillan as the party's candidate in next year's Holyrood poll.

But concern has been expressed in some quarters about the contest.

The Telegraph's source said: "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."

Mr McMillan, who has been an MSP since 2007, has thus far declined to comment on the challenge from Mr McEleny.

He says he will 'make a statement about re-selection in due course'.