20 February 2023

Regan, Forbes and Yousaf: First three candidates in the race to be next FM

20 February 2023

Three candidates have put themselves forward in the surprise race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon and become Scotland’s next first minister.

Current Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf is regarded by many as a continuity candidate, after spending over a decade in the Scottish Government.

He has served as justice secretary, transport minister and international development minister, becoming the first Muslim to be appointed to the Scottish Government in 2012.

In 2021, in the midst of the Covid pandemic, he was given the key appointment of Health and Social Care Secretary – a post which has also put him in charge of controversial plans to bring in a National Care Service for Scotland.

This has been criticised by opposition MSPs, who have also lambasted Mr Yousaf’s stewardship of the NHS after he presided over rising waiting times and growing numbers of delayed discharges.

However, Mr Yousaf, who would be Scotland’s first first minister from an ethnic minority background if elected, has attracted the endorsement of a number of party colleagues at both Holyrood and Westminster.

The MPs and MSPs to have declared their support for him include the Europe minister Neil Gray, and public health minister Maree Todd.

Business minister Ivan McKee has given his backing to Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, who is running for the position of SNP leader and first minister even though she is still on maternity leave following the birth of her daughter last year.

Gaelic-speaking Ms Forbes has long been seen as a potential successor to Ms Sturgeon, and a recent newspaper poll found she was the most popular of the potential candidates.

She was thrust into the political limelight in 2020 when she delivered the budget as public finance minister just hours after Derek Mackay dramatically quit in disgrace – with her performance then seeing her appointed as Finance Secretary soon afterwards.

But Ms Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, may face a struggle to win over some of the socially progressive members in the party, as a result of her views on abortion, same-sex marriage and trans rights.

Like Ms Forbes, Ash Regan is opposed to the Scottish Government’s gender recognition reforms, stepping down from her role as community safety minister to enable her to vote against the legislation.

She joined the SNP in the aftermath of the 2014 independence referendum defeat, having been a member of the Women for Independence campaign group in the run-up to that vote.

Elected as the MSP for Edinburgh Eastern in 2016, before joining the ranks of the Government in 2018, she lacks the cabinet experience that Mr Youasaf and Ms Forbes have.

However, the influential MP Joanna Cherry has given her backing to Ms Regan, citing her “solid, left-wing credentials” working with the Common Weal think tank prior to being elected, and the “courage and leadership she has shown in standing up for the rights of women and girls”.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox