SNP MSP Neil Gray has led the Scottish Government’s response to support Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.

The Orkney-born politician has been elected to both the House of Commons and Holyrood during his career so far, and The National understands he has some support in the socialist wing of the party to launch a leadership bid but he has not yet made any official announcement.

In the meantime, what else do we know about Gray and what kind of party leader he would make?

READ MORE: SNP leadership contest begins to replace Nicola Sturgeon

Early beginnings

The 36-year-old was educated at Kirkwall Grammar school before heading to the University of Stirling, later graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in politics and journalism.

He was also employed for five years as a producer and reporter with BBC Radio Orkney, before moving full-time into politics. He began his role in the SNP as a press and research intern for MSPs in Holyrood, with Alex Neil MSP giving him a job in 2008.

He would later go on to take on the role of Neil’s constituency office manager in 2011.

The National: Gray has been both an MP and MSPGray has been both an MP and MSP

Westminster career

Gray won the selection process to pick the SNP’s candidate for the Airdrie and Shotts Westminster seat ahead of the 2015 General Election.

His appointment was mildly controversial within party ranks after former diplomat Craig Murray was nominated as a potential candidate and did not make the list as he reportedly failed party vetting procedures.

Former SNP councillor Alan Beveridge would later resign from the party in 2015 over Gray’s selection and what he alleged was a “climate of fear” around the process.

READ MORE: SNP set out when new leader will be elected after Nicola Sturgeon quits

Gray won the seat in 2015 with 53.9% of the vote, leaving incumbent Labour MP Pamela Nash, who would later found Scotland in Union, trailing behind with just 34.1%.

Gray’s majority fell from 8779 in 2015 to 195 in 2017, but brought it back up to 5201 in 2019.

During his time in the House of Commons, Gray championed the cause of Roadchef employees who have waited over 20 years for the repayment of funds wrongly appropriated by former executive Tim Ingram Hill.

He also held the SNP spokesperson role for work and pensions between September 2015 and February 2021.

Holyrood career

Gray announced he would be standing down as an MP after six years in November 2020, with Anum Qaisar retaining the seat for the SNP at the subsequent by-election, to allow him to stand for election to Holyrood in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election.

The SNP politician won the seat over former Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, who came runner-up in the constituency seat. Gray gained 16,139 votes, while Leonard returned only 10,671.

During a ministerial reshuffle on January 24 2022, Gray was appointed minister for culture, Europe and international development by Nicola Sturgeon.

Just two months later, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he was given special responsibility for supporting Ukrainian refugees arriving in Scotland. The role meant he led work engaging with local authorities, the third sector and other agencies as refugees began to arrive.

READ MORE: SNP special conference WILL go ahead later this year

Gray said at the time: “With my additional responsibilities I will endeavour to ensure a swift, co-ordinated and focussed government response to the needs of the Ukrainians who seek sanctuary in our country.”

The scheme has faced criticism with Gray telling MSPs that the rollout of the programme had “progressed slower” than expected in September 2022. This led to 1170 Ukrainians, including 420 children, being housed on a cruise ship as a “temporary measure”.

Opposition politicians were highly critical of the decision, with Gray later confirming in January that the contract to use MS Ambition would come to an end on March 31.