Nominations close in SNP leadership race
Nominations for the SNP leadership race have closed, with three candidates expected to be put to the membership.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and former community safety minister Ash Regan are expected to have their names on the ballot paper to replace Nicola Sturgeon.
Nominations closed at noon on Friday, with candidates required to get at least 100 nominations from at least 20 local party branches to advance.
Members will then be asked to vote using the single transferable vote (STV) system, with a winner announced on March 27.
The first full week of the contest has focused on the candidates’ views on social issues, with Ms Forbes losing support from members and MSPs after saying she would not have voted in favour of equal marriage had she been in Holyrood in 2014, nor would she have voted for the Scottish Government’s gender reforms in December.
After coming under pressure to quit the race, Ms Forbes looked to shift the focus, saying in a statement on Thursday she was “burdened” by the offence her comments caused, before saying she plans to allow SNP members to be more involved in policy making if elected.
In the hours before the close of nominations, Ms Regan officially launched her campaign, pitching herself as the unity candidate who would run a competent government while reaching out to the grassroots of the independence movement.
She also hit out at the current leadership of the SNP, saying Peter Murrell’s ultimate control over the contest to replace his wife Ms Sturgeon is a “conflict of interest”, and adding that the party has “lost our way” in recent years.
Her campaign kicked off with a flurry of activity, promising that every election – either at Holyrood or Westminster – would be considered a de-facto referendum under her leadership, meaning a majority of votes in favour of independence should be considered a mandate to begin negotiations with the UK Government on secession.
She also waded into the spat around Ms Forbes’s views, calling for an end to “mudslinging” in the contest.
In the early days of his campaign, Mr Yousaf has proven to be the popular choice among elected members, with senior MSPs such as Shirley-Anne Somerville, Jenny Gilruth, Maree Todd and Neil Gray – who ruled out his own bid for the top job – pledging their support to the Health Secretary.
Ms Forbes had gained endorsements from ministers Tom Arthur and Clare Haughey, among others, before her comments prompted a rethink.
However, she retains the support of business minister Ivan McKee and senior SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing.
Ms Regan’s public support among senior party figures has thus far been limited to MP and fellow SNP rebel Joanna Cherry, who introduced her at her North Queensferry campaign launch.