Humza Yousaf was elected as the first Scots Asian leader of the SNP and First Minister, and indeed the first person from any ethnic minority background to hold either role.
A shock resignation has set off a scramble for the top job in Scottish Politics.
After over eight years at the helm of both Scotland’s largest political party and the Scottish Government, SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation in a shock statement on the 15th of February. Given the political circumstances and the additional powers the Scottish Parliament has accrued since 1999, this is hands-down the most consequential leadership election yet in any Scottish party.
Sturgeon had been elected unopposed as the SNP’s leader in November 2014, and had been Deputy First Minister since the party first took power in 2007. Having won the Depute Leadership of her party in 2004 on a joint ticket with Alex Salmond, there was no question she was the obvious successor. This time around, the field is far more open.
As we approach sixteen years of SNP government, the party has continued to poll consistently ahead of their opponents, whilst Sturgeon has typically recorded stronger personal ratings than other party leaders. Support for Independence, though still seemingly in the minority according to polling, is also marginally higher than it was at the time of the 2014 referendum.
Sturgeon’s successor will face the dual challenge of maintaining the SNP’s place in Government, whilst also driving forward their central cause of Independence. Opponents meanwhile are likely to see a key opportunity. With the dominant figure in Scottish politics for the past decade out of the picture, at least as a leader, the possibility for electing an alternative government and more firmly cementing the future of the Union may be stronger than it has been for some time.
To be nominated for the leadership, candidates needed the backing of at least 100 members spread across at least 20 branches. Where candidates have recently held ministerial office, I’ve used their official picture from the Scottish Government Flickr. I’ve assigned colours to each candidate for use when mapping support – they don’t mean anything other than to distinguish between candidates! (As a wee note of interest, Angus Robertson was going to be orange but he didn’t stand.)
Kate Forbes was elected as MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch in 2016, becoming one of the youngest members elected that year. Much like Humza Yousaf the term before, Forbes was identified early on as a possible future talent, and appointed Minister for Public Finance in 2018. There she would likely have remained for a bit longer were it not for a scandal concerning then-Finance Secretary Derek Mackay breaking out days before the 2020 budget.
Mackay promptly departed government, giving Forbes the responsibility for passing a budget a bit earlier than expected as she took his place. She retained the role, now titled Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, following the 2021 election. Tipped as a leadership contender for some time, as those holding the purse strings so often are, Forbes was on maternity leave at the time the contest was called – certainly not something that should impact her chances in and of itself, but timing which may have her on the back foot initially. The back foot is also where I am, as a gay man who now has to cover a leadership contender who acknowledged she would have voted against treating me as an equal human being.
Ash Regan was first elected MSP for Edinburgh Eastern in 2016, succeeding Kenny MacAskill. She served as Minister for Community Safety from 2018 to 2022, before resigning to enable her to vote against the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.
Humza Yousaf was elected to Holyrood in the SNP’s 2011 landslide, initially as one of the two regional MSPs the party elected in Glasgow that year – and one of the youngest. When the party swept the constituency board in 2016, Yousaf became the constituency MSP for Glasgow Pollok.
Yousaf was brought into government relatively shortly after his election, taking up the post of Minister for Europe and International Development in 2012. After the 2016 election, he was shuffled into the Transport and the Islands portfolio, before being promoted to Cabinet with the Justice brief in 2018. Since the 2021 election, he has been serving as Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care.
Timetable and Process
- 24th of February
- Deadline for nominations
- 13th of March
- Ballot opens
- 27th of March
- Result announced
Voting was via one member, one vote using the transferable vote.
MSP & MP Endorsements
Unlike Labour and Conservative leadership contests, there is no formal role for parliamentarians in the SNP’s leadership election. However, as the most powerful figures within the party, the endorsement of individual parliamentarians obviously carries some degree of weight. There are currently 64 SNP MSPs and 45 MPs, giving a total of 109 parliamentarians. As candidates are obviously self-endorsing, the available pool of proper endorsements is (currently) 106.
This was last updated for endorsements at noon on the 26th of March, 24 hours before the ballot for the contest closed. Any last day endorsements or post-election claims of having voted for a particular candidate will not be recorded here. MSPs marked in bold were appointed by Humza Yousaf to his government following his election.
- Keith Brown – MSP for Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans, Depute Leader of the SNP
- John Mason – MSP for Glasgow Shettleston
- Stuart McMillan – MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde
- Nicola Sturgeon – MSP for Glasgow Southside, First Minister, outgoing Leader of the SNP
- Karen Adam – MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast
- Clare Adamson – MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw
- Alasdair Allan – MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar
- Tom Arthur – MSP for Renfrewshire South, and Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth (initially backed Forbes)
- Hannah Bardell – MP for Livingston
- Mhairi Black – MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, and Deputy Westminster Group Leader
- Ian Blackford – MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and former Westminster Group Leader
- Kirsty Blackman – MP for Aberdeen North
- Deidre Brock – MP for Edinburgh North and Leith
- Alan Brown – MP for Kilmarnock and Loudon
- Amy Callaghan – MP for East Dunbartonshire
- Angela Crawley – MP for Lanark and Hamilton East
- Graeme Dey – MSP for Angus South
- Martin Docherty-Hughes – MP for West Dunbartonshire
- Natalie Don – MSP for Renfrewshire North and West
- Bob Doris – MSP for Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn
- James Dornan – MSP for Glasgow Cathcart
- Jackie Dunbar – MSP for Aberdeen Donside
- Joe FitzPatrick – MSP for Dundee City West
- Stephen Flynn – MP for Aberdeen South, and Westminster Group Leader
- Jenny Gilruth – MSP for Mid Fife and Glenrothes, and Minister for Transport
- Mairi Gougeon – MSP for Angus North and Mearns, and Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands
- Neil Gray – MSP for Airdrie and Shotts, and Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development
- Emma Harper – MSP for South Scotland
- Jamie Hepburn – MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, and Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training
- Stewart Hosie – MP for Dundee East
- Fiona Hyslop – MSP for Linlithgow
- Chris Law – MP for Dundee West
- Michael Matheson – MSP for Falkirk West, and Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport
- Stuart Macdonald – MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East
- Ben Macpherson – MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, and Minister for Social Security and Local Government
- Màiri McAllan – MSP for Clydesdale, and Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform
- Christina McKelvie – MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse, and Minister for Equalities and Older People
- Anne McLaughlin – MP for Glasgow North East
- Paul McLennan – MSP for East Lothian
- Marie McNair – MSP for Clydebank and Milngavie
- Jenni Minto – MSP for Argyll and Bute
- Audrey Nicoll – MSP for Aberdeen South and North Kincardine
- Anum Qaisar – MP for Airdrie and Shotts
- Angus Robertson – MSP for Edinburgh Central, and Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture
- Shona Robison – MSP for Dundee City East, and Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
- Emma Roddick – MSP for Highlands and Islands
- Tommy Sheppard – MP for Edinburgh East
- Shirley-Anne Sommerville – MSP for Dunfermline, and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
- Chris Stephens – MP for Glasgow South West
- Colette Stevenson – MSP for East Kilbride
- Kaukab Stewart – MSP for Glasgow Kelvin
- Kevin Stewart – MSP for Aberdeen Central, and Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care
- John Swinney – MSP for Perthshire North, Deputy First Minister, and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery
- Alison Thewliss – MP for Glasgow Central
- Owen Thompson – MP for Midlothian
- Richard Thomson – MP for Gordon
- Maree Todd – MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport
- Evelyn Tweed – MSP for Stirling
- Elena Whitham – MSP for Carrick, Cumnock and the Doon Valley, and Minister for Community Safety
- Pete Wishart – MP for Perth and North Perthshire
- Colin Beattie – MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh
- Siobhian Brown – MSP for Ayr
- Douglas Chapman – MP for Dunfermline and West Fife
- Martyn Day – MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk
- Annabelle Ewing – MSP for Cowdenbeath
- Fergus Ewing – MSP for Inverness and Nairn
- Jim Fairlie – MSP for Perthshire South and Kinross-shire
- Patricia Gibson – MP for North Ayrshire and Arran
- Christine Grahame – MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale
- Angus MacNeil – MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar
- Fulton MacGregor – MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston
- Ivan McKee – MSP for Glasgow Provan, and Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise
- Ruth Maguire – MSP for Cunninghame South
- Carol Monaghan – MP for Glasgow North West
- Michelle Thomson – MSP for Falkirk East
- David Torrance – MSP for Kirkcaldy
Disendorsed following statements opposing equal marriage:
- Tom Arthur – MSP for Renfrewshire South, and Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth
- Clare Haughey – MSP for Rutherglen, and Minister for Children and Young People
- Drew Hendry – MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey
- Gillian Martin – MSP for Aberdeenshire East
Richard Lochhead, MSP for Moray, and Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work was initially counted as having first endorsed then disendorsed Forbes, but clarified he did not consider himself to have formally given her his backing.
- Joanna Cherry – MP for Edinburgh South West
I’ve also broken down endorsements amongst Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers in the Scottish Government. Unlike the above I have included those candidates (Yousaf and Forbes) who are in Cabinet in the totals here. The Ministers tally also shows the two Green Ministers – they don’t have any role or vote whatsoever, they’re just there to round out the full set of Government MSPs.
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