SNP decision day: What you need to know as Scotland’s ruling party picks its new leader

SNP decision day: What you need to know as Scotland’s ruling party picks its new leader
Опубликовано: Monday, 27 March 2023 07:01

Everything you need to know as the SNP leadership race wraps up.

It’s a huge day in Scottish politics as the long-dominant and pro-independence Scottish National Party decides who will succeed Nicola Sturgeon as its leader — and the country’s next first minister. Here’s what you need to know as the bitter contest comes to a close.

Why the contest is happening

Sturgeon — who has led the party and the country’s devolved government since 2014 — stunned Scottish politics last month when she announced she was stepping down. Citing the personal toll of the job and a desire to “free” her party to pick its own Scottish independence strategy, the 52-year-old leader said it had been a “privilege beyond measure” to serve as first minister.

The move leaves the SNP — already openly split on a host of issues ranging from how to achieve its ultimate prize of independence to a law making it easier to legally change gender — facing its first leadership contest for almost two decades.

Who’s running?

Humza Yousaf: Yousaf announced his candidacy on February 18 as the frontrunner. An MSP since 2011, he’s served as a minister since 2012 and been in the Scottish Cabinet since 2018. Regarded as the candidate closest to Sturgeon ideologically, he picked up the backing of many of her supporters and joked he would have the outgoing first minister “on speed dial.”

But he has faced criticism for his time in government from the other candidates, including a scathing attack from Forbes. A core aspect of Yousaf’s campaign was challenging the U.K. government’s decision to block the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, though signs later emerged of him backtracking. If he wins, he will be the first Muslim first minister.

Kate Forbes: Forbes was the last to declare her candidacy, on February 20. An MSP since 2016, she became Scotland’s finance secretary in February 2020 after her predecessor resigned in disgrace. Forbes was forced to deliver a budget with a few hours’ preparation, a move that impressed colleagues and marked her out as one to watch.

On maternity leave when Sturgeon resigned, Forbes’ campaign almost imploded at the outset when she faced widespread criticism for her socially conservative views, including opposing same-sex marriage, gender self-ID and sex outside marriage. This led numerous MSPs to withdraw support.

But she fought back with strong performances in debates and hustings. Victory would make Forbes Scotland’s second female first minister and the youngest, aged just 32.

Ash Regan: Regan declared her candidacy the same day as Yousaf and has been regarded as the outsider from the get-go. Entering the Scottish parliament at the same time as Forbes, she was largely unknown until resigning as minister for community safety in October 2022 to oppose the gender reform plans.

On independence, Regan has advocated treating every election as a vote on independence — a move that would see her administration negotiate with the U.K. government the next time political parties which support Scottish independence received more than half the votes.

How the result will come

The ballot closes at noon. Contenders will gather at a function room in Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Rugby stadium where National Secretary Lorna Finn will get the result from the party’s Mi-Voice software just after 2 p.m.

She’ll share the news privately with the candidates, before they walk out and take their seats in the front row of the audience. Finn will then go to the podium, where she will read out the total number of votes cast, share of the vote at each stage and finally the identity of the winner.

And then: Sturgeon is expected to tender her resignation as first minister to the king on Tuesday, when a parliamentary vote will take place in Holyrood to formally nominate the new SNP leader as her successor. They will be officially be sworn in at the Court of Session on Wednesday, after which their new Cabinet will be unveiled.

How to watch

The result will be broadcast in a BBC One news special from 1.45 p.m. — hosted by Martin Geissler, while Sky will go live from 2 p.m.

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