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by Louise Wilson
15 February 2023
Who will be the next First Minister of Scotland?

Who will be the next First Minister of Scotland?

Nicola Sturgeon is to stand down as the First Minister, having served for a record-breaking eight years.

She will remain in office, and as SNP leader, until her party elects a successor (timetable TBC).

But with little in the way of succession planning and no clear favourite, all is now a bit up in the air.

Who are the potential candidates for the next First Minister of Scotland?

Kate Forbes

The finance secretary, first elected in 2016, 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.

 

But as a member of the Free Church of Scotland, Forbes would face questions on her religious beliefs as they related to issues like equal marriage, abortion and the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. That could put her at odds with much of the party’s membership.

 

 

Angus Robertson

The bookies’ favourite, Angus Robertson enjoyed a high profile as the MP for Moray until he was ousted by Douglas Ross in 2017. Upon entering the Scottish Parliament two years ago, he was immediately elevated to Cabinet – reflecting his close relationship with Sturgeon and his years of experience.

As constitution secretary, he’s been the architect of the Scottish Government’s indyref planning. As a result, some may consider him too close to Sturgeon if the party believes it needs to change tack.

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.

John Swinney

As a former SNP leader (2000-04) and current deputy first minister (since 2014), Swinney would likely have be seen as the safest pair of hands. However, he has now ruled himself out, having "thought carefully" about whether he should stand. In a statement, he called for an "open debate" about the future direction of the SNP.

"I encourage those who stand for election to bring forward perspectives which anchor the SNP in the mainstream of Scottish politics which is an absolutely critical requirement for the future success of our cause," he said.

Ash Regan

The only one to so far actually express an interest in the vacancy, 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. Despite limited political experience, a source close to the MSP said she was considering a bid – and she’ll no doubt make the gender reforms a key part of her campaign if she does.

The rest

Other unlikely names mentioned to take over include Europe minister Neil Gray (and not just because Holyrood named him ‘One To Watch’ last year…), SNP depute Keith Brown, net zero secretary Michael Matheson and MP Stewart Hosie. 

There had been a suggestion that relatively-new Westminster leader Stephen Flynn would be interested, but he has already ruled himself out – arguing the next leader should be an MSP.

Douglas Ross and Anas Sarwar

Ok, ok, yes it’s a very, very long shot but technically since the election for the SNP leader is entirely separate to the First Minister election (which will be help in parliament and voted on by MPs), either of these two opposition leaders may put their hat into the ring. Ruth Davidson did just that in 2014.

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