ArticleThe Society of International Relations, TU

Anastasia Poole – The future for Scotland: who will be the new SNP leader?

The Scottish National Party leadership election is due to take place on the 27th of March; who will be the next successor stepping into Sturgeon’s shoes?

After nine consecutive years, Nicola Sturgeon stepped down as the Scottish National Party leader. Sturgeon informed the press that this was the right time to go: it was clear in her head and heart.  Aside from being on the frontlines of politics for the past twenty years, she has lately  been involved in numerous controversies – transgender rights, a police investigation into her husband’s loan and so on. Sturgeon also explained that she doesn’t have enough energy to commit to her role as leader, and it’s time that someone else comes and replaces her. But the bigger question here is, where does it leave the Scottish independence movement?

In June 2022, Sturgeon requested that Boris Johnson, the former U.K. prime minister, call another independence referendum. But in November 2022, the U.K. Supreme Court confirmed that the Scottish cannot hold an independence vote without the U.K. government’s approval. The hope for Sturgeon was that, in the next U.K. general election could be held a ‘de facto vote’. Sturgeon stepping down means that the independence movement can lose the limelight, or maybe a new strategy can be developed by the new Scottish National Party (SNP) leader.


Nicola Sturgeon speaks during a press conference at Bute House in Edinburgh where she announced she will stand down as Scotland’s first minister | Pool photo by Jane Barlow/AFP via Getty Images


The new SNP leadership election will be held on March 27th. Now it has been confirmed that the contest is between three contenders: Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf. Initially, it seemed that there would be other potential successors: Angus Robertson, John Swinney and Keith Brown, but they ruled themselves out of the contest. There have been three main topics in the leadership campaigns: economics, declaring independence, and gender recognition reform.

The reason why this vote holds such importance for Scotland’s future is that the SNP is the dominant political party in Scotland. In politics, they are put on the left-liberal side of the spectrum. Their vision for an independent Scotland is based on a concept where the state’s control over economy, social and foreign policy is greatly increased. The party has consistently called for a second independence referendum in the wake of Brexit, arguing that Scotland’s interests are best served by being a separate country. But in light of the gender recognition reform, the SNP party is divided. Who will be the next successor and bring unity to the SNP?

First up in the race is Kate Forbes, who is the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy in Scotland. She is considered the more controversial vote out of the three contenders; regardless of that, she is in the people’s favour to win the race. Forbes has never hidden her religious beliefs, which puts her on the more conservative side of the political spectrum. In the past, she has informed the press that she believes having children outside of marriage is ‘wrong’. On independence, Forbes stated that she would start the independence campaign straight away. Her strategy to achieve independence is through economic growth and trying to earn the people’s trust back, as she told BBC News. Where she might lose some votes in the SNP is with her views on gender recognition reform. At the beginning of the leadership race, she said that she would not have supported the Gender Recognition bill. Mhairi Black, who is the Deputy Westminster leader of the SNP, raised concerns that Forbes’s views could cause a division in the SNP if she became leader. Despite her contradicting views to that of SNP, all the above indicates that she is one of the favourites to win.

Finance Secretary – the 2022-23 Scottish” (CC BY 2.0) by Scottish Government


Next up is Ash Regan, who is a Member of the Scottish Parliament for Edinburgh Eastern. In the ongoing vote, she has been quite controversial, by gaining the nickname ‘the SNP rebel’. She has stated that the party has ‘lost its ways” over the past few years and that there is a division on the inside. When Regan announced that she would be in the SNP leadership race, she hopes to bring back unity and create a new vision for an independent Scotland. Regan plans to call for an independence convention with political parties that support a new referendum. Her plans sound realistic and could be executed well, but she has been criticising the SNP and the party members a lot, foremost Sturgeon’s husband. Despite the fact that her criticism is justified, the media and people haven’t put her in the best light. If she were elected, she would like to introduce new laws where transgender women go to men’s prisons and vice versa. Her other campaign promises are to slow down plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions and to pause plans to introduce a national care service.

Scottish Government, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Last up is Humza Yousaf, who is the health secretary and is Sturgeon’s and other Cabinet member’s favourite to succeed. He is the most experienced out of the three, as he has been serving the government since 2012. But he has faced quite a lot of controversy while being the transport and health minister. In his time as health minister, Scotland’s doctor waiting times have been at an all-time high. But in his defence, quite a big part of that problem has been covid. Yousaf has stated that if he were elected, he would follow in similar footsteps as Sturgeon, meaning a more progressive approach. Yousaf wants to increase support for Scottish independence and have a referendum. Also, he is committed to challenging the U.K.’s decision to block Gender Recognition Reform. In between the leadership race, Yousaf said if he won the election, he would consider adding Forbes to his Cabinet, but wouldn’t agree if it were the other way around.

Humza Yousaf” (CC BY 2.0) by Scottish Government


Out of the three candidates, from my standpoint, I think Yousaf is the safest choice. He is the least controversial, and his political views mirror the SNP-s morals. Maybe it is because he is similar to Sturgeon, but that can also bring down his votes. Some people feel that SNP requires a change of head. Therefore, there is a chance of Forbes being elected, but because of her views, I don’t think she would be the best choice if Scotland declares independence and wants to rejoin the EU. Even if she is on the younger side, her views don’t reflect SNP morals. Since Yousaf and Regan have a higher chance of winning, people are forgetting that Regan is in the race. Also, Regan has been criticising the SNP quite a lot and making well-structured arguments.All the candidates are worthy, but I think it will be a tight race between Forbes and Yousaf. Voting is going on, as we speak, inside the SNP membership until the 27th of March. But whoever wins, people do need to remember, Scottish independence won’t happen soon. For example, take Brexit – to this day, they are making negotiations with the EU. At the moment, the majority of Scots also don’t support the referendum. Overall, while the dream of an independent Scotland stands among some Scots, there are significant political, economic, and legal challenges that may prevent it from happening soon. SNP members will hopefully make the right choice, which serves them best for Scotland.

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