TWO Scottish Government cabinet ministers could be ousted by SNP members ahead of next year's election, The National can reveal.

Shirley-Anne Sommerville and Fergus Ewing are both facing selection battles after being challenged by party activists.

That's now three members of Nicola Sturgeon's top team who will have to fight for their political survival.

On Thursday we revealed how their ministerial colleague Ash Denham was also being challenged.

Every other member of the government standing for re-election has strolled through the first phase of the party's selection process unopposed.  

In total there are 10 sitting SNP MSPs who face a selection contest.

As well as the three ministers, backbenchers, Christine Grahame, Colin Beattie, Kenny Gibson, James Dornan, David Torrance, Stuart McMillan and John Mason will all need to win over local members if they want to represent the SNP in May. 

Somerville, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, is a close ally of the First Minister. She has spearheaded the Scottish Government's controversial bid to reform the Gender Recognition Act. 

Somerville told The National she welcomed the challenged for the Dunfermline and West Fife constituency.

"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," she said.

"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."

Ewing, who is one of the few MSPs to have sat in Holyrood since 1999, is Scotland's cabinet secretary for rural economy and tourism.

He told The National: “Over the next five years there is much to be done for Inverness and Nairn constituency and, of course, Scotland as a whole.  

"Above all, after a successful election we will forge ahead with the momentum we now have to regain our independence with a clear majority now supporting YES.    

"I hope the experience I have gained and record of hard work will be of value to the SNP Team in Holyrood, and to our cause, of independence for Scotland."

Sturgeon is already heading into the next parliamentary term without four members of her cabinet. Aileen Campbell, Michael Russell, Jeane Freeman and Roseanna Cunningham are all standing down.

When approached by The National, Colin Beattie, who represents Midlothian North and Musselburgh, 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."

Of the 73 Holyrood constituencies, there will be selection contests for the SNP in 37.

In the remaining 36, only one candidate has gone for the seat.  Under party rules they simply have to secure the support of 50 members by 12pm on Wednesday 30 September 2020.

Of those 36 all but two are incumbents. Robert Leslie in Orkney, and Tom Willis in Shetland are both standing unopposed.

In Denham's Edinburgh Eastern constituency, local activist Irshad Ahmed said he was trying to oust the sitting MSP because she wasn’t “pushing for independence”.

He told The National: “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.”

Ahmed’s candidacy was boosted by former Edinburgh Eastern MSP Kenny MacAskill.

The former Justice Secretary commented “good man” and shared the announcement on social media.

On Wednesday night, councillor Katy Loudon took to social media to announce her bid to replace John Mason.

She tweeted: "After careful consideration and encouragement from fellow members, I’m delighted to announce I’ve notified the National Secretary, and the Convenor of@Shettleston_SNP of my intention to seek selection as the Glasgow Shettleston candidate for May 2021.

"Having taught across the city, and from being a @theSNP Councillor, I know only too well the challenges that people can face. I firmly believe independence is the only way to properly tackle inequality, and build the country we want to see – one based on equity and fairness."

It’s unusual, though not unprecedented, for a sitting SNP MSP to be defeated in selection contests.

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