Who could replace Nicola Sturgeon and where they stand on key issues

·7 min read
Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes, and Ash Regan SNP Scotland First Minister leadership race - Jane Barlow/PA Wire/Paul Campbell/Ken Jack/Getty Images
Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes, and Ash Regan SNP Scotland First Minister leadership race - Jane Barlow/PA Wire/Paul Campbell/Ken Jack/Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon’s successor as leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), and as Scotland’s first minister, will be announced today.

The result of the three-way contest to carry the banner of Scottish nationalism will be announced at 2pm by the party’s national secretary, Lorna Finn.

Candidates Kate Forbes, the finance secretary, Humza Yousaf, the health secretary, and Ash Regan, the former community safety minister, will be informed of the outcome at an event at Murrayfield stadium, in Edinburgh, just moments before the public.

Mr Yousaf, who is believed to be Ms Sturgeon’s preferred successor, is the bookmaker's favourite.

The victor will become the new leader of the SNP, and therefore Scotland's new first minister.

They will be voted in as head of the Scottish government at Holyrood on Tuesday, and have to select a team of ministers before tackling a formidable in-tray.

Among the challenges facing the new incumbent are the cost of living crisis and turmoil within the party in the wake of the resignation of Peter Murrell, Ms Sturgeon’s husband, as the chief executive of the SNP.

This is how Ms Sturgeon’s potential successors stack up on the biggest issues facing Scotland including independence, gender and the current wave of public sector strikes.


Despite the splits between the SNP and Alex Salmond’s Alba Party, Ms Regan has insisted they would be welcome at an independence summit held as soon as she became leader.

She has insisted any majority for independence-supporting parties at an election, either in Westminster or Holyrood, should be seen as a mandate for independence.


Ms Regan resigned as a community safety minister over Ms Sturgeon’s proposed gender law, which would allow 16-year-olds to self-identify without needing a medical certificate.

She has vowed to ditch the reforms, telling the Sunday Mail as she launched her leadership campaign: “Women’s rights will never be compromised with me.”

Insisting she would “never vote for anything that would put women and girls in danger”, Ms Regan also suggested she could change the rules around trans prisoners after the Isla Bryson case.


Ms Regan insisted in her leadership campaign announcement that it was vital for the Government to provide support to Scots amid the current economic headwinds.

“People expect a First Minister to concentrate on boosting the economy, creating jobs and helping them deal with the cost of living crisis,” she said.

Public sector pay

Ms Regan has said relatively little about public sector pay. In line with other SNP MSPs, she backed the Government’s four per cent pay uplift offer to health workers in the run-up to the 2021 election.

Net zero

Ms Regan is currently a member of Holyrood’s net zero, energy and transport committee.

She previously said Scotland had “a moral duty to future generations to tackle climate change now” and voiced support for the objective of reaching net zero by 2045.

However, she tweeted on Monday:


Mr Yousaf has pledged to use "any means necessary" to break up the UK if he becomes first minister.

He said he would consider a snap Holyrood election to try to demonstrate public support for independence, and that nothing should be "off the table". He also cited Nicola Sturgeon's plan to use next year's Westminster election as a "de facto" referendum.

However, he said that while he has a full plan for achieving a second referendum on independence, he does not share Ms Regan’s belief in treating a Holyrood poll as a de facto referendum.

Mr Yousaf insisted it was time to talk about “policy” rather than “process”, adding: “Let’s get back to the basics of growing our support for independence and talking about the policies.”


Mr Yousaf has pledged to continue to fight for Ms Sturgeon’s controversial gender reforms.

He came under fire in 2021 for refusing to say how many genders the Scottish Government believed there were, insisting it was important to be “inclusive, particularly of non-binary persons”.

However, during his time as justice minister, Mr Yousaf submitted an amendment to the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill which looked to exempt “criticism of matters relating to transgender identity”.


Mr Yousaf has been vocal in his support for an extensive welfare programme north of the border.

In 2019, he wrote on Twitter: “I am a taxpayer – and yes, I’m lucky to have a good salary and rightly pay more tax because of it. Either you believe in universal benefits, funded by progressive taxation, or you believe in means-tested benefits. I know which one I prefer.”

Public sector pay

Mr Yousaf, the SNP’s Health Secretary, insisted there was no money left to increase NHS pay deals following a series of walkouts.

Nonetheless, he submitted a request for extra funds to cover pay rises, which was rejected by Westminster, and views the trade unions’ demands as “not unreasonable”.

Net zero

Mr Yousaf defended the extra £5 million allocated by Holyrood to its climate justice fund last November, despite saying there was no extra money to pay nurses.

He told broadcasters: “People in the Global South are suffering tragedy [and] they might not have food or shelter. Taking money away from them, and reinvesting it back in Scotland, you can make that argument if you wish, but it’s not one I subscribe to.”


Launching her campaign, Ms Forbes insisted she could not “sit back and watch our nation thwarted on the road to self-determination”.

She insisted it was important for the party to “reach out” to its members and beyond in order to “persuade others of the merits of the independence” – suggesting it would be a medium-term priority, rather than an immediate focus.


Ms Forbes was on maternity leave when Holyrood voted through Ms Sturgeon’s gender reforms and during the subsequent row with Westminster.

She was one of 15 SNP politicians to sign a letter in 2019 that urged the leadership not to rush plans to overhaul the Gender Recognition Act.

The letter warned that “conflating sex with gender identification affects a wide range of policy and service delivery”. Ms Forbes, an evangelical Christian, faced backlash from some in her own ranks over her position.


As Finance Secretary, Ms Forbes has overseen Scotland uprating benefits by six per cent. Last year, she called on Rishi Sunak, the chancellor at the time, to increase all social security benefits in line with inflation.

In May 2022, the Scottish Government also confirmed an extra £22.9 billion on social security to raise devolved welfare spending.

Public sector pay

Ms Forbes’s stint as Finance Secretary saw her take key decisions around public sector pay, defending a three per cent pay rise in 2021 despite unions branding it a “slap in the face”.

The Scottish Government has offered a £568 million package to NHS workers in an attempt to end an ongoing nurses’ pay dispute.

Net zero

Ms Forbes has insisted private sector firms must take “meaningful, tangible action” to help Scotland achieve its net zero goals.

She has also said those objectives cannot be met without the Scottish Government levering in private investment.

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