How Kate Forbes could pull off shock victory in SNP leadership race

SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes
SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes

Kate Forbes could pull off a shock victory in the SNP leadership contest thanks to supporters of the third candidate pushing her over the line, former advisors to the party have said.

Fergus Mutch, a former SNP head of communications at Holyrood, said Humza Yousaf was the bookmakers' favourite to win the contest when the result is announced at 2pm at Edinburgh's Murrayfield stadium.

But he said it was "not unlikely" that Ms Forbes could win thanks to the second preference votes cast by the supporters of Ash Regan, the outsider in the race.

The contest will be decided on a single transferable vote system, meaning the SNP's 72,186 members number the three candidates in order of preference.

If no one gets at least 50 per cent support in the first round, the second preferences of those who backed the least popular candidate will be reallocated to the other two.

This would be expected to favour Ms Forbes as she is thought to be more likely to appeal to Ms Regan's supporters. Both candidates have argued the party requires reform, whereas Mr Yousaf has portrayed himself as the Sturgeon continuity choice.

Sturgeon's record 'mediocre'

A Forbes victory would be seen as a huge snub to Ms Sturgeon and her legacy after she described the First Minister's record as "mediocre " and the SNP hierarchy weighed in en masse behind Mr Yousaf.

John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, and Stephen Flynn, the party's Westminster leader have both endorsed Mr Yousaf and Liz Lloyd, Ms Sturgeon's closest aide, has been advising the Scottish Health Secretary's campaign.

But Ms Forbes, the Finance Secretary, is thought to have performed better during the campaign after a difficult start when the devout Christian faced a huge backlash over her opposition to gay marriage.

There are also widespread concerns about the competence of Mr Yousaf, the 37-year-old Health Secretary, who has overseen a crisis in Scotland's NHS and record waiting lists.

Mr Mutch told BBC Radio Scotland: "I'd say Kate Forbes has picked up a bit of a head of steam towards the tail end of the campaign.

"But perhaps her all too honest views on equal marriage for example, and being quite so forthright on how that conflicted with her own faith may have given her just too large a deficit to call back over recent weeks.

"There's still a possible scenario - and not an unlikely one at that - where Humza wins most first preference votes but doesn't quite reach the required quota to win outright in a transferable voting system.

"So therefore the members who give their vote to Ash Regan first, they become all important. And so their second votes, I would say, were more likely to benefit Kate Forbes."

Paul Robertson, another SNP advisor, said it was a two-horse race between Mr Yousaf and Ms Forbes but agreed Ms Regan's supporters could be the kingmakers.

He said: "Those second preferences from the third candidate could be crucial if Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf are very close together on the first preference."

Opinion polls have indicated that Mr Yousaf is marginally more popular with SNP voters but the general public far prefer Ms Forbes and think he has performed poorly at running Scotland's crisis-hit NHS.

Mr Mutch said the party would rally around Mr Yousaf "with relative ease" and he would enjoy the backing of the SNP establishment, but "his struggle will come in convincing the country."

In contrast, he said Ms Forbes would face a battle to keep the party together but she could be "onto a winner" if she manages to navigate a difficult first few weeks.

She said at the weekend she had "no fear" of running a minority government after the Greens threatened to walk away from their Holyrood coalition with the SNP if she refused to accept their policy agenda.

Ladbrokes priced Mr Yousaf at just 1/8 now to be named the next Scottish First Minister, with Kate Forbes out at 3/1 and Ash Regan way back at 40/1.

Alex Apati, of the bookmaker, said: "With just hours to go in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon, the odds now suggest anything other than a Humza Yousaf victory would be nothing short of a miracle."

The Scottish Greens' party council will meet on Monday afternoon, after the result has been announced, to advise their MSPs whether they should stay in government.

Ms Sturgeon is expected to tender her resignation to the King on Tuesday and the Scottish Parliament will vote for a new First Minister. They will be sworn in at the Court of Session the following day, when Cabinet appointments are also expected.

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