John Swinney favourite to become Scotland’s first minister after Humza Yousaf quits

Humza Yousaf has stepped down as Scotland’s first minister after failing to secure enough cross-party support to survive a major crisis with the Scottish Greens.

His resignation on Monday has thrown the Scottish National party into crisis, a little over a year after he took office, with the party’s former leader John Swinney quickly emerging as the favourite to become Scotland’s next first minister. Various bookmakers said they had stopped taking bets on Swinney.

Swinney, who quit government after Nicola Sturgeon stood down in February 2023, confirmed he was “giving very careful consideration” to standing as a unity candidate, after coming under intense pressure from senior figures inside the SNP.

Related: Humza Yousaf quits as Scotland’s first minister – UK politics live

“I’ve been somewhat overwhelmed by the requests that have been made for me to do that, with many, many messages from many colleagues across the party,” he told Sky News. “So I’m giving that issue very active consideration.”

In a hastily arranged speech in Edinburgh, Yousaf admitted he triggered the crisis by unilaterally scrapping a government coalition deal with the Scottish Greens four days ago, leading to the Greens demanding his resignation.

“After spending the weekend reflecting on what is best for my party, for the government and for the country I lead, I’ve concluded that repairing our relationship across the political divide can only be done with someone else at the helm,” he said in a statement at Bute House, the first minister’s official residence.

Yousaf said he planned to stay on as first minister until the party was able to elect his successor, who will lead a minority government dependent on opposition support to get laws passed and its budget agreed.

His government’s survival also depends on Scottish Labour either dropping its plans to call a vote of no confidence in the SNP government this week, or the motion being defeated.

The SNP needs the Scottish Greens to either abstain on the Labour motion or to support the SNP to avoid defeat. Under Holyrood’s rules, a government cannot stay in power if it loses a vote of no confidence.

Party dealmakers expect they can persuade Kate Forbes, the former finance secretary, to stand aside in Swinney’s favour, in order to avoid another bruising leadership contest which could further damage the SNP’s popularity, so close to a general election.

Forbes narrowly lost to Yousaf in last year’s leadership contest after mounting aggressive attacks on his centre-left politics and his close ties to Sturgeon, and pushing a much more mainstream policy agenda. If Swinney does not stand, Forbes will run for the leadership.

Speaking in London on Monday, before Yousaf’s resignation statement, Swinney acknowledged he was weighing up the request, but said it was a “very demanding role”. He added: “I will consider what the first minister [Yousaf] says and reflect on that. I may well have more to say at a later stage during the week.”

One party veteran said Swinney, who is the SNP’s most experienced senior figure, had been asked to stay as party leader until at least the Scottish parliamentary elections due in May 2026. His allies say Swinney has to weigh that decision against the needs of his family, however.

“I’ve got lots of things to think about,” Swinney said. “There’s the whole question of my family and I have to make sure that I do the right thing by my family, they are precious to me. I have to do the right thing by my party and by my country.”

The party source said: “He’s the best placed to give us a soft landing” after the last few tumultuous months for the party, which has been overshadowed by the police investigation into the SNP’s finances and the recent embezzlement charges levelled against Peter Murrell, Sturgeon’s husband and the party’s former chief executive.

Swinney, who previously served as SNP leader between 2000 and 2004, is seen by his backers as far more likely than Forbes to win the support of the Scottish Greens, who will refuse to work with Forbes because of her socially-conservative views on abortion, gender reform and same-sex marriage.

Yousaf had been facing two confidence votes at Holyrood in the coming days in a spiralling crisis precipitated by his axing of the governing partnership with the Scottish Greens last Thursday.

The Greens responded by announcing hours later they would support a motion of no confidence in Yousaf’s leadership brought by the Scottish Conservatives.

Without the support of the Greens and with the SNP two votes short of a majority, this left Yousaf reliant on the vote of Ash Regan, who defected from the SNP last year to join Alex Salmond’s Alba party in protest at a lack of progress on independence and the Scottish government’s stance on gender recognition changes.

The party’s distaste for doing any deals with Salmond and Alba has partly fuelled the quest to get Swinney to stand for the leadership.

Yousaf, who was Scotland’s first leader of Asian and Muslim heritage, scrapped the Bute House agreement – which was brokered by Sturgeon in 2021 and cemented a progressive, pro-independence majority at Holyrood – after increasing internal criticism within the SNP of Green influence on policy direction.

The Scottish Greens planned its own vote on the future of the agreement after members reacted furiously to the scrapping of climate targets and an NHS Scotland decision to pause the prescription of puberty blockers after the publication of the Cass review of gender identity services.

Yousaf has faced a series of challenges since his election, including the continuing police investigation into party finances that resulted in the arrest of Sturgeon and Murrell being charged with embezzlement.

Responding to Yousaf’s announcement, the Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, called for an election. “The SNP are a divided party which is out of ideas and incapable of rising to the challenges Scotland faces,” he said.

“They cannot impose another unelected first minister on Scotland in a backroom deal; the people of Scotland should decide who leads our country. There must be an election – it’s time for change and Scottish Labour is ready to deliver it.”