• Sun. Apr 21st, 2024

Who are the contenders to be the next First Minister?

ByJack Davies

Mar 14, 2023
Nicola Sturgeon stands at podium

After Nicola Sturgeon bowed out as Scotland’s First Minister last month, the battle to replace her is underway, with Humza Yousaf, Ash Regan and Kate Forbes vying for the leadership. 

The party’s membership will decide the SNP’s next leader and Scotland’s new First Minister. 

The result will be announced when balloting closes on March 27. 

Glasgow Pollok MSP Humza Yousaf is a favourite among party elites, having gained the endorsement of prominent SNP MPs Ian Blackford and Mhairi Black.

An MSP since 2011, Yousaf has held key cabinet positions, including Transport, Justice, and Health Secretary.

However, his record as Health Secretary has faced criticism from government watchdog Audit Scotland, which found that the pandemic backlog is growing and “key recruiting targets are unlikely to be met.”

Cabinet minister and University of Edinburgh alumni Kate Forbes has also thrown her hat in the ring. 

Entering Holyrood in 2016, she has quickly risen through the ranks, having taken over as Finance Secretary in 2020 after her predecessor suddenly resigned hours before the budget was announced.

The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch was the first woman to hold the post and oversaw Scotland’s budget during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite appearing as an early favourite, several MSPs have withdrawn their support for Forbes over controversy surrounding her views on same-sex marriage. 

A member of the evangelical Free Church of Scotland, she told the Scotsman that she would have voted against same-sex marriage because she believes that “marriage is between a man and a woman”.

LGBTQ SNP MP Hannah Bardell responded on Twitter, calling Forbes’ comments “hurtful and disappointing.”

The last to enter the contest, Ash Regan, MSP for Edinburgh Eastern, made “a call for calm.”

Having only held the non-cabinet post of Minister for Community Safety, she is less experienced than her competitors.

She has said that “[w]hether you’re a senior minister or a junior minister, you’re doing exactly the same job.”

Regan resigned from the post in October 2022 over the controversial Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

In a statement at the time, Regan said that she cannot support “any legislation that may have negative implications for the safety and dignity of women and girls.”

Regarded as the continuity candidate, only Yousaf has backed Sturgeon’s bill, which the Westminster government recently vetoed using a Section 35 order.

Yousaf has said he is “firmly committed to equality for everybody, because your rights are my rights regardless of who you are.”

“Regardless of whether you agree with the Gender Recognition Reform Bill or not, this overreach by the UK Government is something that we need to defend against.”

While Kate Forbes was on maternity leave during the vote, she indicated she would have voted against it. 

Forbes told STV News:

“I don’t think that we should challenge the Section 35 in court… I would engage with the UK Government to look at how we amend the bill further.”

Both Forbes and Yousaf would not continue Sturgeon’s plan to use the next election as a de facto referendum on independence. 

They would instead focus on gaining increased national support. 

Speaking to think-tank Reform Scotland, Forbes said “there hasn’t been that sustained majority support… I think it ultimately comes down to hard work and a mission to persuade.”

In contrast, Regan would count a pro-independent majority in a Westminster or Holyrood election as a mandate for independence. 

She has already backed establishing a new post-independence currency.  

The current cost of living crisis has also been central to the campaign.  

Forbes has pledged to support businesses and reinvest the £800 million raised by government owned ScotWind to lower energy costs. 

Similarly, Yousaf would “substantially increase investment in Scotland’s renewables and boost our green energy output fivefold to help slash soaring energy bills.”

He also proposes a £1 million fund to provide cost-of-living support through “small, community-based voluntary organisations.”

While yet to outline her cost-of-living plans, Regan would “not support an accelerated net zero path” which came at the cost of the jobs of North Sea oil workers.

All three candidates will participate in televised debates for STV and BBC One Scotland on 7th and 14th March.

Image ‘First Minister’s Statement to Parliament – COVID 19 Update – 3 August 2021‘ by Scottish Government is licensed under CC BY 2.0