SNP leadership contest: Host of Nicola Sturgeon's policies look set to be ditched by whoever replaces her – Ian Swanson
SNP leadership contenders all signal policy shifts on key issues
Less than three weeks ago, John Swinney was being tipped as a possible replacement for Nicola Sturgeon after she announced she was stepping down as First Minister and SNP leader. Now he has announced he will be quitting the government along with her and joining her on the backbenches.
Mr Swinney, 58, who led the party for four years between Alex Salmond’s two stints at the helm and has been Deputy First Minister throughout Ms Sturgeon’s eight years in office, would have been a shoo-in for the job if he had decided to stand, pundits said. And he says he came “frighteningly close” to throwing his hat in the ring. But instead, the long-serving parliamentarian is to make way for new Cabinet talent and spend more time with his family.
It means almost no one from the SNPs first Holyrood Cabinet in 2007 is now still there. And with older potential candidates like Angus Robertson and Keith Brown ruling themselves out of the succession, Ms Sturgeon’s departure really does signal a generational change at the top of the SNP and Scottish Government.
But it’s not only the personnel that are changing. It looks as if several key policies championed by the outgoing First Minister may also have had their day. None of the three candidates plans to adopt her “de facto referendum” strategy for independence. All three have said they would overhaul the plans for the National Care Service.
Only Humza Yousaf has pledged to try to revive the gender recognition reforms by mounting a legal challenge against the UK Government’s veto. Kate Forbes and Ash Regan have both voiced reservations about policy on North Sea oil and gas, criticising the presumption against new exploration.
All three want at least a pause on the controversial Deposit Return Scheme for recycling bottles and cans. The two women have both demanded faster action to dual the A9. And all three have indicated opposition to the proposals to ban alcohol advertising.
A leadership election is an opportunity for candidates to come forward with new ideas and allow people to see the differences in emphasis and approach between them. But trashing the current regime’s position on such a wide range of issues is unusual, especially since all of the contenders are, or have been until recently, members of that government.
It could be taken as evidence of tensions at the highest levels of the party and a breakdown in the discipline which has allowed the SNP to maintain a united front most of the time. But it could also be seen as a refreshing honesty about disagreements and a readiness to recognise when things aren’t working and admit mistakes. Or a mixture of all that.
A poll of SNP members – the people who decide this contest – found many had still not decided who to back. Humza Yousaf was in the lead but with Kate Forbes doing well enough to make the result too close to call, given those undecideds. And although Ash Regan was further behind in third place, her supporters’ second preferences could be crucial. Whoever wins, it looks like there will be lots of changes ahead.