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Not a day to waste: New First Minister told they must hit the ground running

© Jane Barlow/PA WireSNP leadership candidates Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan during the SNP leadership hustings at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow
SNP leadership candidates Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan during the SNP leadership hustings at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow

The new first minister was told they must hit the ground running yesterday as civic leaders warned Scotland cannot afford to drift.

They said issues from the NHS and cost of living crisis to the country’s roads and courts demand to be addressed urgently and warned the next SNP leader’s first 100 days will set the tone for their time in Bute House.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and former community safety minister Ash Regan are vying to take over from Nicola Sturgeon and become the next SNP leader and Scotland’s sixth first minister.

Yesterday, the trio revealed their immediate priorities if victorious when the result of the ballot of SNP members is announced tomorrow after a five-week leadership race. Forbes said she would immediately review how the Scottish Government can support families and firms as the cost of living crisis continues.

She said: “We will renew our commitment to eradicate poverty by ensuring every team in every department of every public body sees it has a role to tackle poverty.”

Yousaf said he would also work to support Scots struggling with soaring costs of energy and household bills, while Regan said she would set out a road map for independence on her first day.


The campaign to elect a new SNP leader will end tomorrow when voting by 72,000 party members closes at midday before the winner is declared two hours later at Murrayfield in Edinburgh.

The new SNP leader will then be elected first minister at Holyrood on Tuesday, subject to MSPs’ approval, and then sworn in at the Court of Session the following day.

According to the latest polling, Yousaf and Forbes are neck and neck in the race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon. An Ipsos Mori poll found 38% of SNP voters have a favourable view of Yousaf, 37% for Forbes and 22% for Regan. Forbes is most popular when supporters of other parties are canvassed.

Under the voting system for the SNP leadership, members are asked to rank their preferred candidate from one to three.

If no one gets 50% in the first round of voting, the candidate in last place is eliminated and their second preference votes redistributed.

Polling expert Mark Diffley, founder and director at The Diffley Partnership, said a lack of polling of SNP members meant the result was not a foregone conclusion.

He said: “The vast majority of people who have taken part in the polls are not SNP members. A lot of them will be SNP voters but not members, and therefore won’t have a say in who the next SNP leader is.

“When the envelope containing the result is opened tomorrow at 2pm, people will literally be on the edge of their seats.

“Humza has been seen as the frontrunner because he has received the most high-profile endorsements, but the general polling that has been done and put Kate ahead has helped her because she has been able to say to members that she can reach parts of the electorate that other SNP candidates can’t.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney will also exit government to the backbenches this week. Swinney revealed on Friday he had tried to quit while enduring sustained criticism of his work as education secretary.

In his current role as health secretary, Yousaf has been criticised over his handling of the NHS, with waiting times for accident and emergency reaching record highs.

Speaking on a visit to the proposed site for the Eden Project in Dundee yesterday, Yousaf said despite his own “tough days” he “never thought about quitting”.

He said: “I’ve definitely had tough times. I’ve thought to myself, ‘goodness, is there more that I can take personally’ because I also come under a tremendous amount of abuse online and, unfortunately, sometimes face to face.”

Sturgeon has been publicly remaining neutral about who her successor should be, but is said to have been furious at Forbes’ description of the Scottish Government’s record as “mediocre”.

But according to reports she has become more relaxed at the possibility of Forbes as her successor.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon making a statement to Scottish Parliament apologising for historical forced adoption © PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

However, at their spring conference in Clydebank yesterday, the Scottish Greens sent their clearest signal yet that they would not work with Forbes, a member of the Free Church whose campaign began with MSPs withdrawing their support after she revealed she would not have voted for gay marriage, if she is elected first minister.

A landmark deal with the SNP in 2021 saw Greens co-leaders Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie become ministers for the first time.

But the Greens find themselves at odds with Forbes’ views on same-sex marriage, trans rights and conversion therapy.

Harvie told his party’s conference that for the Greens a “sincere commitment to progressive values cannot be an optional extra in a choice of first minister”.

Slater, meanwhile, said the party would not stay in government with the SNP “at any cost” as they would “never be a party that is prepared to put our principles to one side”.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack urged the next first minister not to pick fights with the UK Government.

He said: “Whoever wins the leadership election tomorrow faces a fundamental choice which will define their time as first minister.

“It is fair to say that they and I will have fundamental political differences. But this should not, must not, be an obstacle to us working together in the interests of Scottish families and businesses.

“After eight years of Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership, whoever wins has the chance to seize an opportunity to do things differently, to reset, and to make devolution work better for the people we serve.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said Sturgeon’s successor must lead with “transparency and openness” amid controversy over SNP membership numbers. It comes as figures revealed by the SNP showed the party had lost 30,000 members in just over a year – a claim it had previously rubbished. The lies to journalists led to the party’s communications boss Murray Foote resigning, claiming he had issued the denials in good faith before, the next day, the party’s chief executive Peter Murrell, who is married to Sturgeon, resigned.

Baillie said: “The next SNP leader needs to clear out the rot festering in this party. After 16 years in government, the SNP have become arrogant and out of touch, with an increasingly loose relationship with the truth. In the party and in government we are seeing more and more proof of secrecy, spin and outright lies.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant – we need real transparency and openness to end the culture of cover-up at the heart of the SNP.”

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon revealed to the BBC she is learning to drive as she prepares for life after being first minister. She said getting behind the wheel is about “achieving a bit of personal freedom that I have chosen not to have to the same extent” during her political career.