SNP leadership result: Humza Yousaf beats Kate Forbes to become next First Minister
Humza Yousaf has been elected to take over from Nicola Sturgeon as the new leader of the SNP. He won the vote of party members by 52.1 per cent to the 47.9 per cent for Kate Forbes after Ash Regan was eliminated and her supporters’ second preferences were redistributed.
Mr Yousaf is now due to be confirmed as First Minister by a vote in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday. He promised “no empty soundbites or easy answers” and said he would move quickly to address a range of issues. He will become Scotland’s sixth First Minister and the first Asian and first Muslim to hold the post.
Mr Yousaf was ahead on first preference votes with 24,336 or 48.2 per cent, to Kate Forbes’ 20,559 or 40.7 per cent and Ash Regan’s 5,599 or 11.1 per cent. But because he did not achieve an overall majority, Ms Regan dropped out and her second preferences were taken into account, which produced the final result – 26,032 for Mr Yousaf and 23,890 for Ms Forbes.
Voting in the leadership election closed at noon on Monday and the result was announced in a function suite at Murrayfield rugby stadium.
After the result was declared, Mr Yousaf said: “It is hard for me to find the words to describe just how honoured I am to be trusted by our membership of the to be the party’s next leader and on the cusp of being our country’s ext First Minister. I am not just humbled, I also feel like the luckiest man in the world.”
An he quoted the late Labour leader John Smith. “He got it absolutely right when he said ‘The opportunity to serve our country is all we ask’. To serve my country as First Minister will be the greatest privilege and honour of my life, should parliament decide to elect me tomorrow.
“I will aim to lead Scotland in the interests of all of our citizens, whatever your political allegiance. If elected tomorrow, I will be a First Minister for all of Scotland. There will be no empty soundbites or easy promises when the issues in front of us are difficult and complex because government is not easy and I wont pretend that it is.
"My immediate priority will be to continue to protect every Scot, as far as we possibly can, from the harm inflicted by the cost of living crisis, to recover and reform our NHS and other vital public services, to support our wellbeing economy, to improve the life chances of people right across this country. I wil move quickly to develop plans to extend childcare, to improve rural housing,support small businesses and boost innovation. I will bring forward reforms of the criminal justice system, I’ll work with local government to empower our local authorities.”
Mr Yousaf had the backing of the SNP “establishment” including many ministers, MPs and MSPs. The contest was seen as primarily a battle between Humza Yousaf as the “continuity” candidate, eager to continue Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy, and Kate Forbes who said the party needed to change. Ash Regan was regarded as the outsider from the start, though she made her appeal to those in the party fed up with the lack of progress on independence.
Ms Forbes’ candid comments at the start of the campaign about her views on gender reform and same-sex marriage led many to say she had effectively destroyed her own campaign and led to speculation she might pull out of the race. But a poll soon afterwards showed she was still the preferred choice among SNP voters. And one survey found just five per cent of SNP voters thought a candidate's faith or personal beliefs were important.
She pressed ahead and managed to move the debate on to other issues, though concerns over her conservative religious views never went away and prompted the Greens to make it clear they did not see a future for their partnership with the SNP if she became leader.
The outcome of the contest was difficult to predict because there was only one small poll of SNP members – the only ones with a vote – early in the campaign. It put Mr Yousaf ahead and Ms Forbes in second place, but with Ms Regan’s second preferences potentially able to tip the balance. Surveys of SNP voters suggested a tight race between Mr Yousaf and Ms Forbes, while polls of voters in general showed Ms Forbes in the lead.
The leadership contest was sparked on February 15 when Nicola Sturgeon shocked everyone with her announcement that she was stepping down as First Minister after more than eight years in the role. She said that she could no longer give the job all the energy it needed and also that she had become a polarising figure.
With no natural successor in place, many names were touted to replace her as SNP leader and First Minister. Two early favourites, Deputy First Minister John Swinney and former Westminster leader Angus Robertson ruled themselves out and in the end three candidates put their names forward - Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf.
It has been a bruising campaign for the party with “yellow on yellow” attacks, most notably during the STV debate on March 7, when the candidates cross-examined each other. Kate Forbes challenged Humza Yousaf on his record as Transport Minister, Justice Secretary and Health Secretary and asked him: "What makes you think you can do a better job as First Minister?" Mr Yousaf attacked Ms Forbes for never having held a public service delivery position in government and accused her of having "left us about £600 million short" in budget talks with Rishi Sunak when he was Chancellor.
And the campaign also saw the party admitting a 30,000 fall in membership just weeks after flatly denying it. That led to the resignation, first, of SNP communication director Murray Foote who had issued the denial in good faith, and then chef executive Peter Murrell, Ms Sturgeon’s husband, who accepted responsibility for the press and public being misled.
Ms Sturgeon will formally resign as First Minister tomorrow.