Who are the candidates to become Scotland's First Minister?

The National looks at those in the running to lead the SNP and Scottish Parliament

From left: Humza Yousaf, Ash Regan and Kate Forbes. Getty
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Three people have entered the race to become leader of the Scottish National Party after the surprise resignation of Nicola Sturgeon.

They are Scotland's Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, its Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and former community safety minister Ash Regan.

Each candidate was required to get at least 100 nominations from at least 20 local party branches by noon on June 24 to show they have some support among party members.

Who are the candidates?

Health and Social Care Secretary Humza Yousaf

Mr Yousaf was first to announce his candidacy for SNP leadership.

“This is the top job in the country and it needs somebody who has experience,” said Mr Yousaf, whose career was influenced by the late Bashir Ahmad, Scotland's first Muslim MSP.

Mr Yousaf has proven to be a choice among elected Holyrood members, with senior MSPs pledging their support.

He was appointed to the health role in May 2021 and was the youngest MSP elected to the Scottish Parliament, aged 26.

Now 37, he has served in numerous government departments and in 2018 he became cabinet secretary for justice.

He has also been the face of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, which has drawn criticism over its effect on freedom of expression.

Ash Regan

Ms Regan is a former community safety minister, having resigned in October over gender recognition legislation championed by Ms Sturgeon.

She joined the SNP after the public rejected independence in 2014. She was then selected to stand in the Edinburgh Eastern constituency in the 2016 Holyrood elections.

Ms Regan has promoted herself as a unity candidate who can run a competent government and reach out to the grassroots of the independence movement.

She wants to bring together pro-independence parties and organisations to discuss a way towards a constitutional convention similar to the movement that built pressure on the British government for devolution in the 1990s.

“On my first day as leader, I will call for an independence convention to be held,” she said. “We will create a new vision of an independent Scotland.”

Finance and Economy Secretary Kate Forbes

Ms Forbes was first tipped as a potential candidate to succeed Ms Sturgeon as First Minister in 2020.

Her calmness under pressure was applauded after being promoted to finance job when it became unexpectedly vacant, and then having to deliver the budget only hours later.

Ms Forbes has the support of business minister Ivan McKee and senior SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing.

Born in Dingwall in the Scottish Highlands, she was elected in 2016 and was a convener of the Scottish Parliament's cross-party group on Gaelic language and culture.

At 32, she would be Scotland’s youngest leader if she wins. She is on maternity leave after the birth of her first child last year.

“The choices that we make in the next few weeks will have a profound impact on our future and on our children's future,” she said.

How is the election run?

The candidates are on the campaign trail trying to persuade members they can lead the party and the winner will also become first minister.

The ballot opens at noon on March 13 and closes two weeks later on March 27.

Members will be asked to vote using the single transferable vote system, meaning voters can choose their second choice for the job.

A winner will be announced on March 27.

Who has ruled themselves out?

Deputy First Minister John Swinney

He has been Ms Sturgeon's deputy since 2014.

He previously served as Scotland's finance secretary from 2007 to 2016 and education secretary from 2016 to 2021.

Mr Swinney was SNP leader in 2000 but stepped down in 2004 after disappointing election results.

External Affairs and Culture Secretary Angus Robertson

He has spent many years at both Westminster and Holyrood and was a telling factor in the party’s push for a second referendum on independence.

Mairi McAllan MSP

The Scottish Environment Minister has said “now is not the right time” for her to compete in the leadership race.

She said: “With the sincerest admiration for Nicola Sturgeon and with thanks to every single person who encouraged me to run and seek to follow in her footsteps, please see my statement on the SNP leadership contest.”

Stephen Flynn MP

Mr Flynn is the new leader of the SNP at Westminster and the MP for Aberdeen South.

He was also the first to publicly rule himself out of the contest.

Why did Ms Sturgeon resign?

Ms Sturgeon said she had been wrestling with the decision for weeks but decided it was the right time to step aside.

She said: “In my head and in my heart, I know that time is now, that it is right for me, for my party and for the country.

“I am announcing my intention to step down as First Minister and leader of my party.”

Updated: February 24, 2023, 2:28 PM