Greatest game is afoot as newly announced SNP leader battles with his own tragic legacy

The three candidates (who know the result at this stage) practise their poker faces - with various degrees of success - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe
The three candidates (who know the result at this stage) practise their poker faces - with various degrees of success - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

Murrayfield, Edinburgh. Home to Scottish rugby and site of the greatest game of all, the fight for leadership of the SNP.

Under Nicola Sturgeon the party filled stadiums; today the results were announced in a room at the back ("We've got to be out of here by two thirty for a booking by the AA").

The three candidates sat in the front row, knowing already who had won, trying their best not to show it. The tradition is to smile, but Ash Regan's poker face looks like she's planning to batter someone with a poker.

Kate Forbes, the efficient Calvinist, was praying to her God. Humza Yousaf was praying to Ms Sturgeon. This contest had been tipped in his favour the way doting parents make sure the music stops when the parcel lands on the birthday boy's lap, and he's been endorsed by almost every SNP office holder, living or dead - with a credible rumour that his name came up positively during a seance with Sean Connery.

And yet, in the end, it was close.

Ash got a humiliating 11 per cent (hence the face of thunder). When that was redistributed by whatever method of proportional representation we use nowadays (single transferable bingo), Forbes took 48 per cent and Yousaf 52 per cent.

That's pretty good considering Forbes' interviews turned ineluctably to which voters she thinks are going to Hell.

But then, as she pointed out, Humza has been a disaster in every ministerial position he's held - and has no record beyond that because he's been in politics since the Noughties.

He is 37; Forbes is 32. Politicians, like policemen, are getting younger every year.

Undeterred by his narrow win, Humza bounded to the podium like Bambi - for he is charmingly doe-eyed (in their best light, his eyes sparkle like Liz Taylor's in Cleopatra, though the thought of him bathing in milk fair curdles the blood). The speech contained an unstated admission that independence is not happening soon. He quoted Labour's John Smith; he praised the European Union.

This was the same pitch Sturgeon made to Labour and Remain voters, and if the SNP had run Scotland progressively and efficiently, many of them might have thought "perhaps we can do well outside the Union".

But Humza Yousaf will be grappling with the tragic legacy of being governed by Humza Yousaf, who Forbes famously described as mediocre - and no doubt going to Hell for listening to pop music.

The SNP courting the left makes sense in an era when Labour and Conservatives are competing to dominate the cultural right. Yesterday, Suella Braverman announced she wants to ban laughing gas. Not be outdone, Yvette Cooper said she plans to ban laughing.

In Murrayfield, there were tears: Humza's mother cried as the winner reflected that his grandparents, newly arrived from Punjab, "could not have imagined in their wildest dreams" that he would someday be First Minister of Scotland.

Ms Regan, in her wildest dreams, was throttling the First Minister of Scotland. Forbes' dreams are never wild; they are accompanied by a church organ.