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SNP to seek Scottish independence talks even if party loses 20 MPs at next general election | Politics News

SNP leader Humza Yousaf has rejected suggestions it would be “ludicrous” for his party to open formal independence negotiations, even if he loses 20 seats at the next general election. 

Ahead of the SNP’s annual conference, Mr Yousaf also told Sky News it is difficult for his party to make progress “the longer” the major police investigation examining its funding and finances continues.

The SNP’s independence strategy has chopped and changed in the past 12 months as the party became engulfed in unprecedented scandal.

Nicola Sturgeon previously pledged to turn the next general election into a “de facto” referendum. She suggested winning more than 50% of the votes in Scotland would be the same as a result to begin talks over Scotland’s exit from the UK.

Ms Sturgeon quit as leader in February before being arrested as part of the police probe. She was released without charge and insists she is “certain” she has done nothing wrong.

Her replacement, Mr Yousaf, later proposed that winning “most” seats in 2024 would open the door to Downing Street negotiations.

It has now been suggested SNP activists could vote at their Aberdeen conference this weekend to switch the wording to a “majority” of seats.

Mr Yousaf told Sky News he is “open” to the tweak, which would set the bar at 29 seats. The SNP secured 48 MPs in 2019.

During an interview in Glasgow, Scotland’s first minister was questioned whether it was credible to suggest a scenario where the nationalists secure just one more seat than Labour at the 2024 election, and that equating to a clear mandate to trigger independence discussions.

He was asked about a hypothetical situation where Labour could get 23 seats and the SNP drops from 48 seats to 24.

The first minister replied: “If you win the most seats, you tend to be the winner of the general election.

“If you are denying the Scottish people the choice over their own future then the next election, we can test that proposition. In a general election, the rules are pretty simple – those that win most seats, win the general election.”

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Humza Yousaf’s mother-in-law ‘trapped’ in Gaza

Mr Yousaf said he would seriously consider a switch to the majority of seats when party members finalise the plan on Sunday.

He added: “Let’s remember before the referendum in 2014 we were at six seats so actually that number will undoubtedly fluctuate election to election.”

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Police Scotland told Sky News that the SNP finance investigation – dubbed Operation Branchform – is continuing.

The Crown Office, the body which will decide whether or not to charge individuals, said it has received no complaints about the probe so far.

Mr Yousaf agreed the police probe has “hurt” the SNP.

He said: “Of course it has… the longer the police investigation goes on, then the more difficult it is going to be for the party.

“I respect the police has to take whatever time it feels necessary.”

Suspension of SNP rebel Fergus Ewing is ‘proportionate’, says minister | UK News

Suspending rebel SNP MSP Fergus Ewing from the party’s parliamentary group at Holyrood for a week is proportionate, a senior member of the Scottish government has said.

Net zero secretary Mairi McAllan backed the proposed seven-day suspension of the former rural affairs secretary, who has been a vocal critic of Humza Yousaf’s government in recent months.

The suspension – which Mr Ewing has two weeks to appeal against – was approved after he voted with the opposition at Holyrood in a vote of no confidence against Scottish Green co-leader and government minister Lorna Slater amid the controversy surrounding the deposit return scheme.

Mr Ewing has also spoken out against the Scottish government on issues such as the new licensing regime for short-term rental properties as well as the stalled deposit return scheme.

He has also traded barbs with the Scottish Greens in recent months, describing the party as “wine bar revolutionaries” and “hard-left extremists”, as well as calling the atmosphere within the SNP group “toxic”.

The Inverness and Nairn MSP – son of the late SNP trailblazer Winnie Ewing – said: “The SNP is not an ordinary party – we are a party that has always put Scotland first, and that means to me, putting the interests of the people of Scotland first.

“But in good conscience, and it grieves me to say this, I don’t believe that is any longer the case.”

A meeting of SNP MSPs at Holyrood on Wednesday night resulted in a vote of 48 to nine in favour of Mr Ewing’s suspension.

Minister for Net Zero and Just Transition Mairi McAllan arrives ahead of First Minister Humza Yousaf statement on 'Our Priorities for Scotland', in the main chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture date: Tuesday April 18, 2023.
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Net zero and just transition secretary Mairi McAllan

But speaking on BBC Radio Scotland on Thursday, Ms McAllan said there is still room for free thinkers within the SNP.

Asked if she had voted in favour of his suspension, she said: “In full transparency, yes I did.

“It is something I certainly would expect to be the outcome if I had done what Fergus did.

“It is part of a normal party mechanism in a democratic system.”

Asked whether politicians can express their opinions within the SNP, Ms McAllan added: “Of course, I like to think of myself as a free thinker.

“In particular the first minister has been quite clear he wants people to come to him and to speak to him internally if they have any concerns they wish to raise, he has an open door in that regard.

“But Fergus is a longstanding MSP, he has been a minister, he understands the procedures here and what the outcome is of voting the way he did.”

SNP MP Joanna Cherry claimed his rebellion was “the product of years of inadequate debate in our party about policy making”.

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In a statement posted on social media, Ms Cherry – who has criticised the Scottish government’s policy on gender recognition reform – said: “I may not agree with Fergus Ewing on everything but he is a man of integrity.

“I’m glad there were rebels on this vote. His rebellion is the product of years of inadequate debate in our party about policy making. That needs to change. Don’t shoot the messenger.”

Ms McAllan made it clear she does not agree with Ms Cherry’s comments, adding that suspending Mr Ewing was “a proportionate response to a serious breach of party standing orders which was voted on by majority, overwhelming majority, by the group in Holyrood”.

Mr Ewing was flanked by his sister and fellow SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing, former party leadership contender Kate Forbes, MSP Christine Grahame, and his lawyer John Campbell KC.

Asked how he would conduct himself in the future, Mr Ewing said: “I choose to defend my constituents’ interests and let the cards fall where they may.”

SNP has ‘nothing to hide’, says deputy leader who was not told auditors had quit | Politics News

SNP deputy leader Keith Brown has insisted the party has “nothing to hide” and urged greater transparency as he admitted he did not know its auditors had quit until shortly before it was made public.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Brown acknowledged current challenges and the need to rebuild trust, but argued the SNP’s “best days lie ahead” as a crisis engulfs the party with a police investigation into its finances, which has seen its former chief executive and treasurer arrested.

Both Peter Murrell – who is former first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s husband – and Colin Beattie were later released without charge pending further investigation.

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The police inquiry centres on how more than £600,000 in donations to the party earmarked for an independence referendum was used.

SNP MP Stuart McDonald has been appointed party treasurer after the resignation of Mr Beattie.

A key task for him will be appointing auditors after accountants Johnston Carmichael, which worked with the SNP for more than a decade, resigned around September.

The party’s accounts are due to be filed to the Electoral Commission in July.

Pressed over when he knew the auditors had quit, Mr Brown said: “Shortly before it became public. We are talking within the last couple of months.”

Playing down the move, he said: “Like many, many other auditors across the UK, the auditors employed by the SNP decided they were going to cut back the activities they were involved in and that was true of many auditors and for many organisations.”

Read more:
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Arguing it was a matter for the ruling national executive committee (NEC) rather than the wider party, he added: “This was a fairly commonplace occurrence, so this wasn’t a crisis that we didn’t have auditors, this was a change of auditors, and it was a decision by the current auditors in common with many other businesses and third sector organisations across the UK to retract their business.

“This was something that would be dealt with by the national treasurer, was being dealt with by the national treasurer and that’s what’s going to continue to happen.

“The work will be undertaken under the new national treasurer, to make sure we have the auditors in place.”

Mr Brown had previously been involved in drawing up governance reforms, but these had bene rejected by the ruling national executive committee.

He said: “I do regret the fact the party didn’t take on some of those changes, I think they would have helped with the current position.”

But he was pleased these would now be taken forward as part a review ordered by the new leader Humza Yousaf.

He said: “it is incumbent upon everybody on the NEC to make sure that the party members and of course the public have faith in the transparency within the party, they can ask questions and have those questions answered.”

Mr Brown added: “We have nothing to hide. We are by far and away the biggest, most successful party in Scotland.

“I believe the SNP’s best days lie ahead of it, but let’s make sure we are more transparent than any other party.”

He told Sky News: “There are challenges and we’re trying to meet those challenges.

“But of course the SNP has to make sure it takes measures to rebuild its trust with both its members and the people of Scotland.”

SNP appoints Stuart McDonald as new treasurer after Colin Beattie’s resignation | UK News

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has appointed MP Stuart McDonald as its new treasurer following the resignation of Colin Beattie on Wednesday.

Mr Beattie stepped down after he was arrested in connection with an investigation into the party’s finances.

He was subsequently released without charge pending further enquiries.

His arrest came after the party’s former chief executive Peter Murrell – who is married to the former first minister Nicola Sturgeon – was also arrested and questioned before being released without charge.

The police are looking into how more than £600,000 in donations to the party set aside for an independence referendum was used.

Mr McDonald represents Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch for the SNP at Westminster.

He has held several positions for the party, and is currently their justice and immigration spokesman.

The 44-year-old said: “While it is a difficult and challenging time, I look forward to getting on with the job of national treasurer to help take forward the important work being led by our new party leader, Humza Yousaf, to improve the SNP’s governance and transparency.

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“I’ve no hesitation in stepping forward when asked to do my part in keeping our party firmly on a campaign footing as the case for Scottish independence becomes more compelling that ever.”

The new treasurer has a lot to address, including appointing auditors for the party after the firm Johnston Carmichael resigned in September.

The party’s accounts must be filed to the Electoral Commission in July.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “Stuart McDonald faces an uphill battle dealing with an SNP high command that clearly don’t think the rules apply to them.

“Despite the SNP’s ongoing crisis it has shown no willingness to change.

“It has failed to suspend senior figures embroiled in a police investigation, and its culture of cover-up and secrecy remain in overdrive.

“This arrogant and sleaze-ridden party needs to start operating with some much-needed transparency and consistency, but I won’t hold my breath.”

SNP warns Electoral Commission over ‘difficulty’ in finding new auditors as deadline looms | Politics News

The SNP has warned the Electoral Commission of the “difficulty” it is having in finding new auditors after its previous firm resigned amid the controversy over the party’s finances.

The admission to the elections watchdog comes just months before a crunch deadline which requires political parties to submit their accounts to the agency by 7 July, or risk being fined.

The SNP is facing questions and accusations of secrecy over the timeline of the resignation of Johnston Carmichael, which was announced last week.

SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf said earlier on Tuesday they had quit “round about October” – months before the official announcement – but Sky News has now been told the auditors had in fact resigned a month earlier in September.

It is understood Johnston Carmichael informed the SNP in September 2022 that it would not be able to carry out the audit due for 2023 following a review of their client portfolio.

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The party then began approaching alternative firms in late 2022 to no avail, with the search intensifying in early 2023. As yet, the party has not been able to identify a firm with the available capacity.

Mr Yousaf raised eyebrows after he admitted he had also not been aware of Johnston Carmichael’s resignation last year, saying he could not “comment on what was done prior to me becoming a leader of the SNP”.

However, he agreed it was “extraordinary” that the party had failed to appoint a new set of auditors since they had resigned.

The struggle to find replacement auditors comes following the dramatic events of last week which prompted Johnston Carmichael to confirm it was no longer handling the SNP’s accounts.

Days before, Peter Murrell, the former party chief executive and Ms Sturgeon’s husband, was arrested and questioned by police investigating the party’s finances.

Mr Murrell, who had been in the role for 25 years, quit during the contest to find Ms Sturgeon’s successor after she unexpectedly announced her resignation.

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The SNP has been accused of hiding the fact that auditors stopped handling their accounts six months ago.

Last week he was questioned by Police Scotland as part of its investigation into the whereabouts of £600,000 of party donations earmarked for independence campaigning.

It is understood there have been complaints the ringfenced cash may have been used improperly by being spent elsewhere.

Mr Murrell was later released without charge “pending further investigation”.

Opposition parties said Mr Yousaf’s revelation about the timing of the auditors’ resignation raised further questions about who knew what about their finances.

Read more:
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First Minister Humza Yousaf says governance of SNP ‘was not as it should be’

MSP Jackson Carlaw, who was leader of the Scottish Conservatives from 2019 to 2020, tweeted: “Why did they hide it from the membership and the public? All very grubby and murky from the Nats. No wonder auditors resigned.”

Mr Yousaf, who was only elected leader just over two weeks ago, said one of the party’s “major priorities” was appointing new auditors “quickly”.

He said the SNP hopes to still have its accounts prepared in time to be submitted to the Electoral Commission in July, although he admitted it would be “problematic”.

An SNP spokesperson said: “We have informed the Electoral Commission of the difficulty in identifying replacement auditors and the national treasurer has made the party’s finance and audit committee aware.”

Douglas Ross: Row erupts as Scottish Tory leader suggests people should vote Labour to oust SNP | Politics News

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has suggested that Tories should vote Labour in the next election, prompting fury from his party’s Westminster HQ.

Douglas Ross said people should “do what’s best for the country” and support the candidate most likely to beat the SNP in their constituency – and in many Scottish seats, it is likely to be Labour or even the Lib Dems who are the most serious threat to the Scottish nationalists.

Mr Ross said he wants to loosen the SNP’s grip on Scotland, adding that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer should also be looking “a bit beyond their own narrow party agenda” in favour of keeping the UK together.

He told The Sunday Telegraph: “The public know how to tactically vote in Scotland.

“I will always encourage Scottish Conservative voters to vote Scottish Conservatives, but I think generally the public can see and they want the parties to accept that where there is a strongest candidate to beat the SNP you get behind that candidate.

“If parties maybe look beyond their own narrow party agenda and do what’s best for the country and for me as Scottish Conservative leader what would be best is if we see this grip that the SNP have on Scotland at the moment is loosened.”

But a Tory spokesman in Westminster insisted that tactical voting was not the official position south of the border, saying: “This is emphatically not the view of the Conservative Party.

“We want people to vote for Conservative candidates wherever they are standing as that’s the best way to keep Labour and the SNP out.”

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The news comes just weeks before the local elections, where Mr Sunak and his party are expected to lose more than 1,000 seats, according to a recent report in the Daily Mirror.

This would be a blow to the impression he is trying to give of a prime minister repairing the reputation of the Conservatives.

Man, 28, arrested after acting ‘suspiciously’ near SNP leader Humza Yousaf’s official residence | UK News

A 28-year-old man was arrested after police were called to a report of someone acting “suspiciously” near the official residence of Scotland’s First Minister. 

Police Scotland said they were called to an incident on Saturday evening in the Charlotte Square area of Edinburgh, where Bute House is situated.

Newly appointed First Minister Humza Yousaf moved into Bute House this week after winning the Scottish National Party leadership contest to replace Nicola Sturgeon.

Bute House, Charlotte Square, Edinburgh.
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Bute House, Charlotte Square, Edinburgh

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “We were called at around 7.40pm on Saturday 1 April to a report of a man acting suspiciously in the Charlotte Square area of Edinburgh.

“Officers attended and a 28-year-old man was arrested in connection with the incident.

“There was no threat to the wider public and inquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said they were aware of the situation but will not be commenting, saying it is a police matter.

SNP candidate Kate Forbes insists she has ‘progressive views’ after gay marriage backlash | Politics News

SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes has insisted she has “progressive views” after scrutiny of her religious beliefs. 

The Scottish finance secretary lost several supporters in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon when she admitted she would have voted against gay marriage in Scotland at the time it was made legal almost a decade ago.

She subsequently told Sky News that her faith means having children outside of marriage is “wrong” and something she personally would “seek to avoid”.

Ms Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, has also voiced opposition to Holyrood’s gender legislation and has failed to fully commit to banning all forms of conversion therapy.

Asked if she considers herself to have progressive views, Ms Forbes told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I do indeed.

“I think we live in a pluralistic, tolerant society, which allows space for everyone. And of course, the definition of progressivity is that we stand up for those who have no voice and ensure that we are representing their interest in Scotland today.”

Ms Forbes was then pressed on her views on gay and trans conversion therapy, which the Scottish government has committed to ban by the end of the year.

During a Sky News leadership debate last week, Ms Forbes was asked six times if she would end the practice even fro those who consent to it – and did not give a straight answer.

Although she called conversion therapy “abhorrent”, she got tangled up when asked about people who wanted it done to themselves, saying they “should be allowed to live freely as they choose, I do not think there should be conversion therapy in Scotland”.

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Kate Forbes says she personally believes children outside marriage is wrong

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Pressed for clarity on her position on Sunday, she repeated her stance that conversion therapy is “abhorrent” but said “lived experiences” should “inform the approach that we take to the debate”.

“I understand that there are people who will see that there is no non-coercive approach to conversion therapy and I’m not here to try to argue with that,” she said.

“I’m here to build on the experiences that people have shared and ensure that any approach we take to the legislation reflects those lived experiences.

“But it is a very sensitive issue and I do think it is important that rather than give you a sort of quick ‘gotcha’ answer on a matter of such importance that we do reflect on the consultation responses and we ensure the legislation bans such an abhorrent process.”

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Leadership rival Humza Yousaf has tried to exploit Ms Forbes’ perceived weakness with SNP voters on social issues by suggesting she is “abandoning the progressive agenda” of the party.

‘Stunning level of scrutiny’

Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg, Ms Forbes said there has been “quite a stunning level of scrutiny and perhaps backlash from some quarters” around her religious views.

She said other people of faith have held high office in the UK and she vowed to ensure Scotland is a “tolerant and pluralistic nation”.

Addressing the gay community, she added: “I give you an honest pledge today to govern in a way that delivers for you, that does not in any way undermine your rights and actually seeks to enhance your opportunities in Scotland to ensure that Scotland is truly that tolerant and pluralistic nation that we all want to see.”

The interviews were pre-recorded as Ms Forbes does not work on Sundays due to her religion – though she has said she would if she is elected first minister.

She was speaking before the SNP was plunged into turmoil over the weekend as chief executive Peter Murrell, who is married to Nicola Sturgeon, quit after a row over the party’s membership numbers.

His departure came shortly after that of media chief Murray Foote, who said there had been a “serious impediment” to his role.

Ms Forbes, who along with the other candidates had called for the membership numbers to be released, told Sophy Ridge she has “full confidence in the integrity of election contest”.

She said the significant fall in paid-up support to the SNP that the party was forced to confirm, demonstrates that “we do need to focus and deliver change”, adding: “Continuity won’t cut it.”

SNP leadership contender Ash Regan says ‘conflict of interest’ over Nicola Sturgeon’s husband in contest | Politics News

A challenger in the race to become SNP leader has argued there is a “conflict of interest” over the involvement of Nicola Sturgeon’s husband in the contest to choose her successor.

Questioning the role of SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, Ash Regan stressed the need for the process to be “transparent”.

But the party has insisted the ballot will be “free and fair” and points out it will be overseen by the elected national secretary, not staff members.

Ash Regan, pictured centre, is running against Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes for Scotland's top political job
Image:
Ash Regan, pictured centre, is running against Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes for Scotland’s top political job

Despite being viewed as an outsider, Ms Regan also insisted she was running “to win” and said many people had contacted her recently to say she was “the only hope for the SNP”.

The former Scottish government minister is up against the country’s health secretary Humza Yousaf and finance secretary Kate Forbes to head the party and become first minister, as Ms Sturgeon bows out after eight years in charge.

But with Mr Murrell married to the outgoing incumbent, Ms Regan told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme that he is “running the contest to replace his wife”.

“That would be like Carrie (Johnson) counting the votes for Boris’s successor,” she said.

“I think many people would think that would be fairly unusual.”

Ms Regan added: “I think there is a conflict of interest here.

“My campaign team, we have set out we think it should be an independent, third-party company that should running the contest, and we have also asked for there to be a neutral observer as well, just to make sure everything is above board.

“We’re the largest party in Scotland and the person that wins this contest will not just be leader of the SNP but they will actually also become the First Minister of the country.

“It is very significant, it is very important. And it is important for both the members of the SNP but also the wider country that there is trust, it is all above board and it is transparent.”

But a SNP spokesperson said: “Whoever becomes the next SNP leader will do so as a result of a free, fair and well-run election process in keeping with best practice for such ballots.”

Ms Regan, who quit the Scottish government last year so she could vote against gender recognition reforms at Holyrood, accepted she is “probably the least well-known out of the candidates with less name recognition” and acknowledged that meant she had to “work that bit harder to set out my stall”.

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But she said: “I’m in this competition to win it and I’ve been having a lot of support expressed to me by the membership.”

She added: “At the moment we understand that a large amount of the membership are still undecided, it is a very short contest.

“But I have had many people get in touch with me recently to say that they think I am the only hope for the SNP.

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“We are at a crossroads at the moment in terms of where we go next and I believe that I’m the candidate that is setting out a credible democratic means for Scotland to express its will at the ballot box and give Scotland that choice over their own future.”

Sky News is hosting the Scotland leadership debate live from Edinburgh on Monday 13 March at 7pm.

Kate Forbes MSP, Ash Regan MSP and Humza Yousaf MSP will face questions from political editor Beth Rigby.

Viewers will be able to watch live and for free on Freeview channel 233, Sky channel 501, Virgin 603, BT 313, as well as on the Sky News YouTube channel and on the Sky News App and website.

There will also be further insight and analysis in the Politics Hub and on Sky News’ social channels (TikTok, Instagram and Twitter) and podcasts.

SNP leadership race: Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan announce bids to succeed Nicola Sturgeon | UK News

The Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf and former minister Ash Regan have announced their bids to stand to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP.

The pair made their announcements in the Sunday Mail newspaper, with Mr Yousaf describing the time since Ms Sturgeon announced her resignation as a “rollercoaster of emotions”.

They are the first candidates to officially declare their intention to stand.

Mr Yousaf said: “You’ve got to put yourself forward if you think you’re the best person for the job. And I do. This is the top job in the country, and it needs somebody who has experience.”

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf during a visit to the Rapid Cancer Diagnostic Service (RCDS) at the NHS Fife Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy. The chairman of a doctors' union has warned there is "no way that the NHS in Scotland can survive" in its current form as he renewed his calls for a national conversation on the future of the service. Dr Iain Kennedy, chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, issued the warning on Wednesday, and said his NHS colleagues had told him over the pas
Image:
Humza Yousaf

The Glasgow Pollok MSP has been viewed as a potential successor to Ms Sturgeon since he first entered Holyrood in 2011.

He has been a perennial frontbencher in every SNP administration since, but has become mired with controversy in recent years surrounding the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill – which faced criticisms over its impact on freedom of expression – and his stewardship of the NHS, which faced the hardest winter in its history in recent months.

Announcing her bid, Ms Regan said she believes she is the right person to “bring back unity, draw a line under certain things and move past them”.

SNP Minister Ash Regan speaks at the For Women Scotland and the Scottish Feminist Network demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, ahead of the vote on the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. Picture date: Wednesday December 21, 2022.
Image:
Ash Regan

She referred to getting the NHS “back on its feet” following the COVID pandemic, boosting the economy, creating jobs and dealing with the cost of living crisis.

The former community safety minister has been referred to as a rebel SNP MSP after she resigned in protest against the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, and has since become an outspoken critic of the legislation.

She has also called for SNP members who left in the past year to be given a vote in the leadership race – a move described as “preposterous” by deputy first minister John Swinney.

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Other potential candidates yet to announce their bids include finance secretary Kate Forbes, culture secretary Angus Robertson and Mairi McAllan.

Mr Swinney has ruled himself out to be next the leader, as did Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader.

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How the SNP will elect its new leader

SNP MP Angus MacNeil told Sky News that the party has a number of options to choose from following Ms Sturgeon’s surprise resignation.

“There are other capable people such as Jenny Gilruth or Ivan McKee, or I think Kate Forbes is going to put her hat into the ring as well,” he said.

“But one of the things that we do have is a depth of talent in the SNP.”

Candidates have until Friday 24 February to receive more than the threshold of 100 nominations from at least 20 local branches.

If more than one candidate passes that mark, an election will be triggered, culminating on 27 March.