Politics

New SNP leader and Scottish first minister set to be revealed after bitter contest

The gruelling contest to replace Nicola Sturgeon as the leader of Scotland’s biggest political party reaches its crescendo later when the winner is announced.

Humza Yousaf, Ash Regan and Kate Forbes have spent weeks battling to become the new SNP leader and, ultimately, the next first minister.

The party will reveal the results of the two-week online ballot in Edinburgh this afternoon.

The race was triggered following Ms Sturgeon’s shock resignation after more than 3,000 days in Scotland’s highest office. Her reign made her the longest-serving leader of the devolved government.

In one of her last interviews in office, she told Sky News she had become so dominant in Scottish politics she was becoming a “barrier to succession”.

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Emotional Sturgeon in final speech

It had been thought around 100,000 SNP members were casting a vote in this competition.

But over the course of this campaign, the SNP became embroiled in a row over attempts to conceal dwindling membership numbers. It later became apparent they had suffered a loss of 30,000 members in 18 months.

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The party’s head of communications quit after it emerged he had provided false information to a newspaper.

Murray Foote had been instructed to publicly deny the Sunday Mail report revealing the drop of tens of thousands of members.

The party’s long-standing chief executive, Peter Murrell, and husband of Nicola Sturgeon, resigned hours later after taking responsibility for the issue.

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Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell quits as SNP chief

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The contest has been bitter and fractious with the candidates, two of whom are serving cabinet minister, trashing and attacking their own government’s record.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes questioned the competence of her rival Mr Yousaf, the health minister, live on a television debate.

Ms Forbes lost a huge amount of support from SNP politicians after admitting on TV she would have voted against gay marriage. She also told Sky News her strong Christian faith meant it was ‘wrong’ to have children outside of marriage.

Mr Yousaf, who criticised Ms Forbes for her comments, then came under scrutiny after questions were raised about why he missed the final, historic vote on gay marriage at Holyrood in 2014.

A serving minister at the time, Mr Yousaf claimed he had an unavoidable meeting.

The first minister during that period, Alex Salmond, later gave an exclusive interview to Sky News revealing Mr Yousaf, a devout Muslim, had asked to “skip” the vote due to pressure from religious groups. This accusation, which he denied, dogged the first few weeks of his campaign.

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Ms Regan was ridiculed by critics after suggesting she would test whether Scotland was ready for independence by erecting a “readiness thermometer”.

She described the concept as a physical device where Scots could watch the progress towards a second vote on the constitution.

The winner is expected to be crowned mid-afternoon in Edinburgh after which it is thought Nicola Sturgeon will formally tender her resignation as first minister to HRH King Charles.

The new SNP leader will face a Holyrood vote on Tuesday to appoint them as the new FM. The final ceremonial moment comes on Wednesday when they are sworn in at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

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