Who could become Scotland's next First Minister? Runners and riders to replace Nicola Sturgeon

15 February 2023, 19:41

Nicola Sturgeon announced her shock resignation on Wednesday
Nicola Sturgeon announced her shock resignation on Wednesday. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A fierce battle is set to erupt within the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) following the shock resignation of Nicola Sturgeon, who today admitted it was time to go after eight years as First Minister.

Ms Sturgeon led her party to a series of impressive electoral victories throughout her time as First Minister in Scotland and across the UK.

Her last few weeks and months as First Minister were mired with controversy over her gender reform plans, as well as the issue of housing transgender prisoners.

These divisive issues are unlikely to disappear as Ms Sturgeon steps back from the political frontline and will likely dominate the SNP leadership election.

Read More: 'Privilege of my life': Nicola Sturgeon says 'nothing will come close' to being First Minister after shock resignation

Here are five SNP candidates that could succeed Nicola Sturgeon.

Kate Forbes

Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes
Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes. Picture: Getty

Kate Forbes, who has been on leave following the birth of her daughter, has emerged as an early frontrunner to succeed Ms Sturgeon.

Ms Forbes has served as Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Economy, and is renowned for being a member of the Free Church of Scotland.

Read More: A Rowling trans row, two referendums and still no independence : Nicola Sturgeon’s time in frontline politics

A practising Christian, she is understood to have been concerned about Ms Sturgeon's gender reforms that were ultimately blocked by the UK government.

She has previously said “politics will pass” but faith is forever.

John Swinney

Deputy First Minister John Swinney
Deputy First Minister John Swinney. Picture: Getty

As Ms Sturgeon's deputy, it is not hard to see why John Swinney could put himself forward to replace the First Minister.

He has been serving as the Cabinet member for Covid Recovery.

Mr Swinney served as leader of the SNP some 20 years ago, though at the time he was leader of the opposition.

He resigned from his position after four years following poor election results.

Angus Robertson

Angus Robertson MSP Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture
Angus Robertson MSP Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture. Picture: Getty

Angus Robertson has long been considered one of Ms Sturgeon's most loyal MSPs, placing him as one of the safer replacement options.

He has been serving as Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, which has put him in contact with a number of senior EU officials as the SNP-led government attempts to improve relations with Europe.

He was also the SNP's leader in the House of Commons from 2007 to 2017, before Ian Blackford took over.

Humza Yousaf

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf. Picture: Getty

Had Ms Sturgeon resigned several years ago, Humza Yousaf's chances of becoming Scotland's next First Minister would potentially be higher.

Mr Yousaf was appointed to this role in May 2021 and became the youngest MSP elected to the Scottish Parliament at just 26 years old.

He has served in a number of roles, including Secretary for Justice, during which he introduced the controversial Hate Crime Bill.

But his time as Health Secretary has seen him face a raft of criticism over his handling of the NHS, and in particular over his failure to deal with A&E delays and waiting lists.

Ash Regan

Scottish Daily Politics
Scottish Daily Politics. Picture: Getty

Ash Regan was another SNP MSP to criticise the Scottish government's plans for gender reform, citing concerns about “the safety and dignity of women and girls”.

In fact, Ms Regan recently quit her job as Minister for Community Safety in October.

Responding to the resignation, Ms Sturgeon said: “At no stage have you approached me – or indeed the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice – to raise your concerns about the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

“However, in circumstances in which a Minister is unable to support the government, it is the case that the only options available are resignation ahead of the vote or dismissal thereafter.”

It is expected she will enter the race once nominations open, The Herald reports.

Stephen Flynn

SNP Leader Stephen Flynn
SNP Leader Stephen Flynn. Picture: Getty

Stepehn Flynn recently replaced Ian Blackford as the SNP representative in the House of Commons, but today he ruled himself out of the running to become Scotland's next First Minister.

Speaking to LBC's Iain Dale, he said he has "no intention" of putting himself in the running and said he was looking forward to seeing who steps forward.

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