Who will replace Nicola Sturgeon?

Who will replace Nicola Sturgeon? ‘Wee Free’ Kate Forbes, 32 – a member of evangelical church which opposes gay marriage and abortion – tipped as favourite to become new SNP leader

  • Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation fires starting gun on race to replace her
  • Kate Forbes, Angus Robertson and Humza Yousaf all among leading contenders 

Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation has fired the starting gun on the race to replace her as SNP leader and Scottish First Minister.

The surprise nature of Ms Sturgeon’s announcement means the contenders to succeed her will be competing from a standing start.

There appears to be no obvious frontrunner in the contest, although top members of Ms Sturgeon’s Scottish Government are all being tipped as likely candidates.

The SNP’s leader at Westminster, Stephen Flynn, is also being touted as a possible challenger. 

Here are those thought most likely to enter the race:

Kate Forbes

Kate Forbes is a leading member of Ms Sturgeon’s administration who is being heavily tipped to replace her.

She is the Scottish Government’s finance secretary having taken on the role in February 2020 when she became the first woman to hold the post.

The 32-year-old went on maternity leave last July – the first serving Scottish cabinet secretary to do so –  and gave birth to her daughter Naomi in August.

It has recently been reported that Ms Forbes, who is married to Ali MacLennan, has reconsidered her political future and is prepared to consider a leadership bid.

She had previously been thought not to have harboured such ambitions, despite regularly being touted as a future SNP leader since entering the Scottish Parliament as MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch in 2016.

The daughter of missionaries, Ms Forbes spent much of her childhood in India.

She is a member of the Free Church of Scotland, sometimes better known as the ‘Wee Frees’, which is opposed to gay marriage and believes there are few circumstances in which abortion is justified.

Ms Forbes has previously said she has been ‘guilty’ of ‘tiptoeing around’ her Christian faith.

Ms Sturgeon’s government was accused of rushing through its controversial gender identity reforms before Christmas, while Ms Forbes remained on maternity leave, in order to prevent a potentional revolt by her. 

Angus Robertson

Angus Robertson is also among the bookies’ favourite to replace Ms Sturgeon.

The 53-year-old is the Scottish Government’s constitution secretary and has experience of leadership within the SNP.

He was the party’s deputy leader between 2016 and 2018 and also led the party for almost 10 years at Westminster while an MP.

Mr Robertson’s spell as the SNP’s Westminster leader ended in defeat when he lost his MP seat at the 2017 general election.

This also saw him quit as the SNP’s deputy leader and he set up a pro-independence think tank during his time out of elected office.

But he returned to frontline politics at the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, when he became MSP for Edinburgh Central.

Humza Yousaf

Humza Yousaf is the Scottish Government’s health secretary.

The 37-year-old became Scotland’s first Muslim cabinet minister in 2018, when he was appointed to his previous role as justice secretary.

He has been MSP for Glasgow Pollok since 2016, having previously been elected to the Scottish Parliament as an additional member for the Glasgow region in 2011 at the age of just 26.

Despite being tipped as a possible replacement for Ms Sturgeon as First Minister, Mr Yousaf’s chances could be harmed by the current health crisis in Scotland.

He has come under particular pressure over long waiting times for ambulances and emergency care.

John Swinney

John Swinney is currently Scotland’s Deputy First Minister.

The 58-year-old has been an MSP ever since the Scottish Parliament’s creation in 1999.

He has held a series of top cabinet jobs in the Scottish Government and most recently has been deputising as finance secretary during Ms Forbes’ maternity leave.

Keith Brown

Keith Brown is the SNP’s current deputy leader and also the Scottish Government’s justice secretary.

The 61-year-old is a former Royal Marine and a veteran of the Falklands War.

He was first elected to the Scotish Parliament in 2007, since when he has held a variety of ministerial positions.

Mr Brown has recently been at the centre of a row over the Scottish Government’s handling of transgender prisoners.

He was forced to order an urgent review by the Scottish Prison Service following outcry over the cases of Isla Bryson and Tiffany Scott.

Bryson was revealed to have been held at a women’s prison when awaiting sentence for raping two women while a man.

Scott, who had been convicted of stalking a 13-year-old girl before her transition, had also been due to be sent to a female unit.

Joanna Cherry

Joanna Cherry has been MP for Edinburgh South West since 2015 and has previously held frontbench roles for the SNP at Westminster.

She became one of the SNP’s leading voices in the battles over Brexit in the UK Parliament.

But the 56-year-old was later sacked from a prominent position in the party amid reported tensions with Ms Sturgeon over her support for ex-SNP leader Alex Salmond, independence strategy and transgender rights.

She has recently been one of the most vocal opponents of the Scottish Government’s controversial gender idently reforms, which has seen Ms Cherry forced to deny allegations of transphobia.

The ‘utterly toxic’ debate over transgender rights has seen her receive death threats, she has previously revealed.

Stephen Flynn 

Stephen Flynn has recently taken on the role of SNP Westminster leader following the resignation of Ian Blackford amid the party’s internal divisions.

He has been MP for Aberdeen South since 2019 and has made efforts to try and shed claims he is at the heart of a ‘laddish’ group of SNP politicians in London.

On taking over from Mr Blackford he attacked reports about a ‘Tuesday Club’ of nationalist MPs.

He said it was ‘upsetting’ to be linked to a culture of beer and curry – claiming he can ‘barely stomach korma’.

The 34-year-old’s possible ambitions to succeed Ms Sturgeon could be hindered by the fact he does not sit in the Scottish Parliament.

But there is precedent for an MP to lead a Scottish party after Douglas Ross took over as head of the Scottish Tories in 2020.

Mr Ross’s predecessor, Ruth Davidson, deputised for him at First Minister’s Questions before he was able to take a seat in the Scottish Parliament himself at the 2021 election. 

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