Who will replace Nicola Sturgeon in the SNP leadership race?

Who will replace Nicola Sturgeon in the SNP leadership race?

A new leader of the Scottish National Party will be announced by the end of Monday, March 27, with three candidates are in contention to succeed Nicola Sturgeon.

Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf are still in the fray, with SNP members having begun to cast their ballots on March 13. Polls will close at midday on Monday.

Ms Sturgeon, the leader since 2014, has admitted the process has been “difficult” but, according to the Financial Times, said Scotland would emerge in a better place with the debate a “healthy” one.

She had spoken out after party president and interim chief executive Michael Russell had reportedly said: “It’s fair to say that there is a tremendous mess and we have to clean it up.”

Hustings events were held around Scotland in the lead-up to March 13 for members to get to know their candidates better.

Here is what we know about them.

Kate Forbes

Kate Forbes is the favourite to replace Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader (Jane Barlow / PA)
Kate Forbes is the favourite to replace Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader (Jane Barlow / PA)

The current Secretary for Finance and Economy and a Gaelic-speaker, Kate Forbes was elected to Parliament in 2016 and is currently on maternity leave after giving birth to her first child.

In 2020, the 32-year-old Cabinet Secretary for Finance became the first woman to deliver the Scottish government’s budget, only hours after her predecessor, Derek Mackay, quit.

Ms Forbes has recently apologised about her comments that she would have voted against the introduction of same-sex marriage and that having children outside of marriage “would be wrong according to my faith”.

The comments left many LGBT+ members aghast, causing prominent backers to distance themselves from her campaign. These included Scottish Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, who said he “profoundly disagrees with views of Kate Forbes”.

Now Ms Forbes has promised to protect the rights of everybody in Scotland, “particularly minorities”.

Ms Forbes is a member of the socially conservative, evangelical Free Church of Scotland, and in February wrote about her stance on Twitter.

She said that she was “greatly burdened and heartsore that some of my responses to direct questions in the media have caused hurt to friends, colleagues and fellow citizens”.

She also said that she would “defend to the hilt the rights of everybody in Scotland, particularly minorities, to live and to love without fear or harassment in a pluralistic and tolerant society”.

Ms Forbes said “more of the same” would be “an acceptance of mediocrity” for the party.

Ms Forbes was the new favourite with many bookmakers to be named as the next SNP leader. However, her odds have drifted from 11/10 to 5/2.

She would be the youngest SNP leader if she were to win the race.

Humza Yousaf

Humza Yousaf, 37, the health secretary (Andrew Milligan / PA Wire)
Humza Yousaf, 37, the health secretary (Andrew Milligan / PA Wire)

The 37-year-old health secretary has cast himself as the continuity candidate to become the front-runner in the contest.

He took over the country’s response to the Covid crisis when appointed in May 2021 and was the youngest MSP elected to the Scottish Parliament aged 26.

He has served in numerous roles and, in 2018, he was appointed as Cabinet Secretary for Justice. He introduced the Hate Crime Bill, which caused controversy among opposition parties.

Mr Yousaf’s capacity to lead has come under question after a recent report revealed a less-than-impressive NHS Covid recovery plan.

The damning report revealed new figures showing the full extent of waiting times at A&E departments of up to 60 hours.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, said that Mr Yousaf should be “sacked, not promoted”. He asked whether “the useless health secretary is really the best the SNP have to offer the country”.

Mr Yousaf retaliated by telling BBC Scotland: “We have never hidden the scale of the task and recovery will not take weeks or months but years.”

He is the new favourite at 2/5 to be Scotland’s next First Minister.

Ash Regan

Former SNP minister Ash Regan (PA Wire)
Former SNP minister Ash Regan (PA Wire)

A former minister and occasional party rebel, Ms Regan confirmed in February she was putting herself forward to be the new SNP leader.

Ms Regan had earlier resigned from the Scottish government in protest at the gender recognition reform bill and launched her campaign on Friday, February 24.

Ms Regan has stated her “firm support” for equal marriage and brought in former Alba candidate, Kirk Torrance, to join her leadership election team.

“Ash Regan’s leadership campaign team includes a number of ‘best-in-class’ advisers, including campaign strategist Kirk Torrance, who led the SNP in the digital transformation of their renowned campaigning machine,” a representative for Regan said.

“Torrance advised former First Ministers [Alex] Salmond and Sturgeon through the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and during their respective election victories between 2010 and 2016.”

She is considered the rank outsider and has said during the campaign that the SNP has “lost its way”.

Ms Regan is placed at 4/1 by bookmakers to win the leadership contest.