Final three in SNP leadership contest to replace Nicola Sturgeon confirmed

Nominations have closed in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP and first minister, leaving three candidates vying for the top job in Scottish politics.

The party confirmed today that finance secretary Kate Forbes, health secretary Humza Yousaf and former community safety minister Ash Regan had all reached the nominations threshold to make it onto the ballot paper.

The SNP is estimated to have around 100,000 members and each of them will be able to vote for their new leader from 13 March.

The ballot will then close on 27 March, with a new leader announced soon after.

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The contest was sparked after the shock resignation of Ms Sturgeon, who had held the post of Scotland's first minister for eight years.

And the early stages of the race to succeed her have been bruising for the party.

The woman seen by many as the rising star, Ms Forbes, ended up at the centre of a storm after saying she would have voted against gay marriage.

Later in the week, she also told Sky News her faith meant it is "wrong" - in her view - to have children outside of marriage.

Her campaign was on the ropes, and some thought her sparkling political career was over as high profile backers withdrew their support.

But Ms Forbes has stayed in the race and sparked a wider debate about religion and whether holding such opinions should bar you from high office.

The finance secretary, who is on maternity leave, took a few days to "reset" this week and brought in new media advisers before issuing a new statement which attempted to draw a line under the row about her religious views.

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Meanwhile, Mr Yousaf is a health minister under pressure who has faced a barrage of criticism for his handling of an NHS in crisis.

He was questioned by the media on gay marriage too, insisting he fully supports equality and voted for it in the initial stages of the legislation in 2014.

But many have pointed out he missed the final historic vote - something he explained by saying he had other government business to deal with - and accused critics of having "resurrected" the issue for political reasons.

Ms Regan has been outspoken in her views over the SNP's plans for gender reform, resigning from government over Ms Sturgeon's bill on the issue, and claimed the party had lost its way in recent years.

But she pitched herself as the unity candidate during her campaign launch on Friday, saying she would run a competent government while reaching out to the grassroots of the independence movement.

She also hit out at the current chief executive of the SNP, Peter Murrell, saying as the husband of Ms Sturgeon, there was a "conflict of interest" in him running the contest.