16 February 2023

SNP leadership race: Who could replace Sturgeon?

16 February 2023

Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention to stand down just 24 hours ago, and the race to replace her is set to commence in earnest in the coming days.

The SNP’s ruling body will meet virtually on Thursday to discuss a timetable for the leadership race, with an announcement expected afterwards.

No-one has yet said they want to step into the First Minister’s shoes, but one major development has narrowed the pool of potential leaders.

Here is a look at the potential candidates to take over as First Minister, and who has ruled themselves out:

– SNP Westminster group

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has ruled himself – and the entirety of his group – out of a tilt at the leadership.

The newly-anointed head of SNP MPs told the BBC on Wednesday that he would not be seeking the leadership, insisting the next person for the job would come from Holyrood.

It is not clear if this was a binding announcement, so there may still be some MPs that look at the possibility of running, but it would remove one of the more high-profile critics of the First Minister.

Edinburgh South West MP Joanna Cherry has been a thorn in the side of the leadership in recent years, particularly over the issue of gender.

The announcement – if MPs decide to abide by it – would also rule out deputy Westminster leader Mhairi Black, former defence spokesman Stewart McDonald and ex-Westminster leadership candidate Alison Thewliss.

Mr Flynn’s comments also mean the new SNP leader is likely to be the next First Minister of Scotland, rather than the leader serving at Westminster while a deputy runs the country.

– Angus Robertson

Currently the bookies’ favourite for the top job, the Scottish Constitution Secretary has been a high-profile figure in the party for the best part of a decade, serving as Westminster leader before losing his seat in the Commons to Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross.

The Edinburgh Central MSP has also been a close ally of the First Minister.

– Kate Forbes

The Finance Secretary, who is currently on maternity leave after the birth of her first child, has long been seen as a potential successor to the First Minister.

She was thrust into the limelight by having to step in and deliver the Scottish budget at the 11th hour in 2020 after her predecessor Derek Mackay resigned in disgrace.

But the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, who is a Free Church of Scotland member, could be at odds with the wider party – and current policy – on some social issues, including the hotly-debated gender reforms blocked by the UK Government.

– Humza Yousaf 

The Health Secretary has consistently been among the names mentioned as a potential First Minister of the future.

But his stewardship of the controversial Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill through Parliament while he was justice secretary and his handling of the current NHS crisis may have dented his chances with the membership.

– John Swinney

Currently serving as Deputy First Minister and a former leader himself, Mr Swinney should be considered a dark horse in the race.

A figure who commands respect across the party, Mr Swinney has intimated before that he would not want the top job, but he could be seen as a safe pair of hands to get the party, and the country, through a tumultuous time.

– Ash Regan

The only candidate who has given even a signal of intention to run, Ms Regan would be considered an outsider for the job.

She recently quit as community safety minister in the hours before the first vote on the Scottish Government’s gender reforms, citing concerns with the legislation that the First Minister said she had not raised before.

Ms Regan has since been an outspoken opponent of the reforms, appearing at and speaking to various rallies.

A “source close to” the Edinburgh Eastern MSP told the Daily Express she is considering a run, although no official announcement has been forthcoming.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox