Key moments in the SNP leadership contest

Ash Regan, Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf Credit: PA Images

Nicola Sturgeon was always going to leave some big shoes to fill, but the SNP has already been finding the First Minister a hard act to follow.

The race for the SNP leadership has been a rocky affair, with dramatic resignations and acrimonious clashes between the candidates during live TV debates.

Even interim chief executive Mike Russell said, only a few days ago, that the party is in "a tremendous mess".

Outgoing leader Ms Sturgeon has defended the situation, saying the SNP is going through "some growing pains" since she announced her decision to step down after more than eight years as party leader.

Three members of the Scottish Parliament are running to replace her - Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, 32, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, 37, and 49-year-old former Scottish Government minister Ash Regan.

Peter Murrell was arrested in April 2023 as part of the ongoing investigation into the SNP’s finances Credit: Andy Buchanan/PA

Perhaps the most dramatic moment in the leadership campaign has been the resignation of Peter Murrell, who had served as SNP chief executive for almost 25 years - and is married to Ms Sturgeon.

He quit with immediate effect after the party initially rubbished reports that its membership had dropped by 30,000 - with the then-SNP head of communications Murray Foote dismissing the claims as "drivel".

In an embarrassing U-turn, however, the party then admitted that as of 15 February this year, its membership was at 72,186 - down from 103,884 in 2021.

Mr Foote quit his SNP role, with Mr Murrell then resigning the following day.

Clashes between the leadership candidates have also made the headlines in recent weeks.

SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes. Credit: Craig Brough/PA

In a bad-tempered STV debate, Ms Forbes attacked Mr Yousaf, saying he would be a "continuity candidate" when the party desperately needs change.

In the harshest exchange of the race thus far, Ms Forbes hit out at the record in Government of Mr Yousaf - who is the current Health Secretary - saying: "You were a transport minister and the trains were never on time, when you were justice secretary the police were stretched to breaking point, and now as health minister we've got record-high waiting times.

"What makes you think you can do a better job as first minister?"

Her comments echoed Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie's scathing remark that Mr Yousaf is "the worst Health Secretary on record" and is "without a doubt the worst minister I have ever had the misfortune of shadowing".

Mr Yousaf and other senior party figures accused Ms Forbes of "trashing the SNP's record" - but her polling improved.

Also taking the spotlight for perhaps not the best reason was Ms Regan, who has previously tweeted "this is the time for #Bravehearts, not Fainthearts" during her attempts to get ahead in the polls, when she said she would give Gary Lineker a "red card" following the BBC row over his refugee tweet.

He was temporarily removed as presenter of the BBC's Match Of The Day show after criticising the UK Government's asylum seeker policy.

Ms Regan, who admitted she had not even seen his tweet, backed him during a Channel 4 debate, saying "he should be allowed to express his views".

Confused? Not as confused as Mr Yousaf, who asked "where are all the men?" when meeting Ukrainian women refugees, appearing to forget many are likely to be engaged in conflict at home as they defend their country in the face of the Russian invasion.

Mr Yousaf, the favourite to replace Ms Sturgeon, made the blunder while visiting Ukrainian women in Edinburgh to discuss support for refugees in Scotland.

Elsewhere, Ms Forbes looked to be heading for a very early exit from the leadership contest when she opened up about her views on same-sex marriage in the first week of campaigning.

Ms Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, immediately lost some of her high-profile supporters after she said she would not have voted for gay marriage.

She also said having children outside of marriage "would be wrong according to my faith" and is something she would personally "seek to avoid".

SNP deputy Westminster leader Mhairi Black said she had been "incredibly hurt" by the comments, with Deputy First Minister John Swinney saying he "profoundly" disagreed with them.

Supporters of Ms Forbes, however, said they admired her honesty - a virtue the party seems to have lost sight of, certainly in the last few days.

The leadership contest has sent the SNP's poll ratings plunging.

The "tremendous mess", however, has been to the delight of Labour and the Conservatives, who hope to gain seats in Scotland during the general election likely to happen next year.

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