Scottish leadership election officially begins with three names on ballot paper

Louise Scott rates the chances of success for the three candidates left in the race to become Scotland's next first minister

By Lewis Denison, ITV News Westminster Producer

The race to replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland's first minister is officially underway, with three names on the ballot paper.

Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf now all have a month of campaigning to Scottish National Party members before a leader is elected in just over a month on March 27.

Each candidate was required to get at least 100 nominations from at least 20 local party branches to advance in the contest.

The successor to Nicola Sturgeon will be elected by approximately 104,000 SNP members through the single transferable voting system.

She announced her shock resignation after eight years in the job in a surprise press conference last week, saying deciding she wanted a "little bit of time on Nicola Sturgeon, the human being".

She insisted the move was "not a reaction to short term pressures" - a comment percieved as reference to a row over transgender prisoners, which led to widespread criticism of the Scottish government.

Ms Sturgeon will remain in office until her successor is chosen.

What you need to know abobut the candidates

Kate Forbes

Kate Forbes is Scotland's finance minister - she was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016 and would be the youngest ever SNP leader if she won.

Her campaign got off to a chaotic start after she revealed on the day she announced her candidacy that she would have voted against gay marriage were she elected to the Scottish Parliament when the legislation was approved in 2014.

Several early backers withdrew support following the comments despite an "unequivical" apology from Ms Forbes and commentators claimed her campaign had died on the day it was born.

But a poll - for communications agency the Big Partnership, 1,001 Scots who voted SNP in 2021 - put her as the most popular candidate, however 31% said they do not yet know who to back.

Announcing her candidacy, Ms Forbes said she was someone who can “unite” the SNP – which has been split recently by the controversy over reforms to the gender recognition process – as she pledged to “reach out and listen”.

Ms Forbes interrupted her maternity leave following the birth of her baby daughter last summer to run to be the next SNP leader.

She rose to prominence in 2020, becoming the first woman to deliver a Scottish budget after the the resignation of Derek Mackay.

Humza Yousaf

Scotland's health secretary is the most high profile candidate in the race, which could prove a poisoned chalice.

Leading Scotland's response to the coronavirus pandemic means he is known through throughout the UK, but he's admitted himself that's led people to form negative opinions.

On the topic of gay marriage issue, which has become a talking point in the election after Ms Forbes' comments, Mr Yousaf said he would “always fight for the equal rights of others”.

He's the closest candidate to Ms Sturgeon, who is hugely popular among SNP members, and was the only one who knew she was quitting before she did - something which could go in his favour.

Polling puts him in second place, with a 20% backing.

Announcing he would run, Mr Yousaf said: “You’ve got to put yourself forward if you think you’re the best person for the job. And I do. This is the top job in the country, and it needs somebody who has experience.”

The Glasgow Pollok MSP, who entered Holyrood in 2011 and has been a perennial frontbencher in every SNP administration since, has long been viewed as a potential successor to Ms Sturgeon in Bute House.

Mr Yousaf was appointed health secretary in May 2021 and was the youngest MSP elected to the Scottish Parliament at age 26.

He has served in numerous roles and in 2018, he was was appointed as Cabinet secretary for justice.

He also introduced the Hate Crime Bill, which triggered controversy among opposition parties.

Ash Regan

Ms Regan is the race's outsider and is relatively unknown outside Holyrood.

The former community safety minister quit her ministerial role over the controversial Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which many claim led to Ms Sturgeon's downfall.

She has said she would be the person to "bring back unity, draw a line under certain things and move past them."

Ms Regan made clear her support for same-sex marriage, declaring: “I firmly support the right to equal marriage and I am proud of the SNP Scottish Government’s record in delivering the Equal Marriage Act Scotland in 2014.

“As party leader and first minister, I will take the SNP forward together, with like minds and critical friends, to create a Scotland where everyone feels safe, included and protected in what they say, what they believe and who they love.”

Pitching herself to members as the candidate who would govern the country the best, Ms Regan said: “I respect everything that my predecessors have achieved since 2007, but recently we have lost our way.

“Under my leadership we will re-establish our track record, we will reform our team, we will reiterate the vision of an independent country with parity of esteem in the world.”

Ms Regan has been calling for SNP members who left in the past year to be given a vote in the leadership race, a move described by the party's deputy leader as “preposterous”.

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