Sturgeon: No prospect of SNP splitting due to leadership contest

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted there is “no prospect” that the contest to replace her as Scotland’s first minister will split the SNP – although she warned the new leader faces a “tough” job.

While political rivals have described the SNP as being in the midst of a “civil war”, Ms Sturgeon declared: “I don’t believe there is any prospect of the SNP splitting.”

Her comments came as Mhairi Black, the SNP’s deputy leader at Westminster, said she does not know if the party will stay together if Kate Forbes – the current Scottish Finance Secretary – is chosen as the new leader.

Asked if that could happen on The Bunker podcast, Ms Black said: “Honestly I don’t know, to tell you the truth.”

But Ms Sturgeon said: “I think the SNP is having a democratic contest and once that contest is decided it will get behind whoever emerges as the winner.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, however, claimed: “Nicola Sturgeon has divided Scotland and now her departure is dividing the SNP.”

He said that “while the SNP go through this civil war, the real priorities of Scotland are being ignored”.

Ms Sturgeon’s departure from the top job in Scottish politics dominated their exchanges at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.

Ms Forbes criticised the record of rival candidate Humza Yousaf in a TV debate earlier this week, and Mr Ross that said in doing so, the Finance Secretary had “torched the SNP’s record in Government”.

He told Ms Sturgeon: “Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said this about Scotland – the trains never run on time, the police service is stretched to breaking point, there’s record high waiting times in the NHS.”

Ms Forbes made the comment while condemning Mr Yousaf’s efforts over the years as health, justice and transport ministers.

Mr Ross went on to recall that when the First Minister had “handpicked” Ms Forbes to be promoted to Finance Secretary in 2020, she had described her as having a “forensic grasp of detail”.

He added: “On this Government’s record she has got the detail bang on the money, hasn’t she?”

Ms Sturgeon conceded she could not “grudge” her opponents from seeking to make political capital from the leadership contest – the first in the SNP for almost 20 years.

SNP leadership hopefuls Kate Forbes, second left, Humza Yousaf, second right, and Ash Regan (Kirsty Andrewson/STV/PA)
SNP leadership hopefuls Kate Forbes, second left, Humza Yousaf, second right, and Ash Regan (Kirsty Andrewson/STV/PA)

“We have had lots of Tory and Labour leaderships to enjoy over these years,” she added.

But she told the three candidates seeking to succeed her – Ms Forbes, Mr Yousaf and the former community safety minister Ash Regan – that winning the leadership contest would be the “easy part”.

She added: “Being First Minister is hard, it is tough, it is massive responsibility.

“Whoever emerges in the position of the first minister, and is standing here three weeks today, has one overriding task – it is to govern and it is to serve in a way that inspires the people of Scotland to keep placing trust in us.”

She claimed “every single one of the SNP politicians mentioned by Douglas Ross today have more popular and public approval than he does”.

Ms Sturgeon said of the Tory leader: “Douglas Ross, I think, is the least popular elected leader in Scotland today.

“Perhaps if he spent a bit more time looking in the mirror, reflecting on the reasons for his party’s and his personal unpopularity and a bit less time thinking about the SNP, he might not be in the dire straits he is in right now.”