Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
by Staff reporter
20 February 2023
SNP leadership contest: Who's in and who's out?

SNP leadership contest: Who's in and who's out?

There are now three candidates in the running to be the next SNP leader and first minister of Scotland following the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon.

Sturgeon will remain in office until her successor is named at the end of next month, with nominations set to close on Friday.

Once nominations have closed, the ballot will open at midday on 13 March and close two weeks later on the 27th. 

So, who’s standing and who’s not?


Kate Forbes 

The finance secretary, who is currently on maternity leave, announced her decision to stand via a video posted on social media. 

First elected in 2016, Forbes came to prominence following her rapid promotion after Derek Mackay (who himself was seen as a frontrunner for the next leader) resigned in February 2020. She is known to be smart and capable, and at 32 would be the youngest first minister ever.

She said: “The nation and the Yes movement are at a major crossroads. The choices we make in the next few weeks will have a profound impact on our future and our children’s future 

“I cannot sit back and watch our nation thwarted on the road to self-determination. Our small, independent neighbours enjoy wealthier, fairer, and greener societies – and so can we. 

“We urgently need to unleash the full talent of the SNP, the wider Yes movement and the country at large. We need to choose strong, competent leadership to deliver independence – the leadership that I can offer.”


Humza Yousaf

Once considered to be the most likely successor to Sturgeon, having been in parliament since 2011 and held a range of government jobs, the beleaguered health secretary has had a tough time of late which may impact his ambitions. He has faced calls to resign over his handling of the NHS, particularly waiting times. But he has enjoyed a great deal of air time appearing alongside the FM in this role since May 2021.

Like Forbes, at 37 he would be the youngest person to hold the office – and also the first BAME and Muslim FM.

Launching his campaign in Clydebank, he said: “I have the experience. I was elected in 2011, been in government since 2012, and have been trusted with some of the country’s most difficult jobs.”

He said his focus would be to build grassroots support for the Yes movement from “the bottom up so we can definitively say that independence has become the settled will of the Scottish people”.


Ash Regan 

The former community safety minister is likely to be a controversial figure within the party, resigning as she did over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

First election in 2016, Regan entered government two years later. She held the same portfolio until her resignation at the end of last year. 

She has vowed to scrap the Scottish Government's gender reforms and row back on its net zero commitments, pledging instead to “stand up for oil workers and their communities”.

John Swinney

The deputy first minister was spoken of as an early contender to replace Sturgeon, but quickly ruled himself out. A former leader of the party, Swinney has been an MSP since 1999.

He said: “To create the space for that fresh perspective to emerge, I have decided not to be a candidate for leadership in the SNP. At this critical moment, I believe there must be an open debate within the SNP about our direction.”

Angus Roberston 

Robertson had been an early favourite with the bookies, but has now ruled himself out. The constitution secretary said that as the father of two young children, the “time is not right” for him to stand.

In a statement posted to Twitter, he said: “Since Nicola Sturgeon announced she is stepping down, I have been encouraged by many to consider running for the SNP leadership and to become first minister. It is a real privilege and honour for people to wish me to stand and I am very thankful for their trust.

“However, as the father of two very young children, the time is not right for me and my family to take on such a huge commitment.”

Màiri McAllan

Seen as a rising star of the party and just 30 years old, McAllan ruled herself out as a successor to Sturgeon. The environment minister said she had “thought very seriously about entering the contest”.

“However for various reasons, at this stage I have concluded that now is not the right time for me to seek the very top job of leading our party and our country.” 

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by Staff reporter - Police submit Operation Branchform report to Crown after Peter Murrell charged.

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top