Will Kate Forbes foil the SNP’s succession plan?

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Humza Yousaf resigned at noon yesterday in the face of two confidence votes, after he dramatically brought the SNP’s power-sharing deal with the Scottish Greens to an end last week.

It was a disorderly demise. But so quickly did the conversation shift to the topic of who might replace the outgoing first minister, that SNP stalwart John Swinney felt obliged to hold a press conference a mere 90 minutes later.

Speaking to the media, former deputy FM Swinney said he was giving “active consideration” to running to replace Yousaf. It came as a string of high-profile endorsements flowed in for the 60-year-old, including from SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn — tipped by some as a potential contender himself. The political choreography was unmistakable: the SNP top brass wants Swinney.

With MPs Ian Blackford, Alyn Smith and Pete Wishart all having stated their support for Swinney yesterday afternoon, it now seems a matter of time before he formally declares his candidature. As for the schedule of events, the SNP’s national secretary announced nominations for the vacant leadership position had opened yesterday at 11.59 pm; they will close on Monday.

The problem for Swinney — especially given he rejected the chance to run to replace Nicola Sturgeon in 2023 — is it rather looks like he is being urged by SNP royalty to dive on a grenade: i.e. lead the party into the next Westminster election, suffer heavy losses, then hand over to a longer-term fix.

Still, it is far from guaranteed that Swinney will seize the SNP crown unopposed. Indeed, speculation today has focussed on whether Kate Forbes — the runner-up in the 2023 leadership contest — will once more put herself forward as a claimant to the Bute House throne.

‘It has to be the new generation’

Forbes, 34, came unstuck in the last leadership race for two reasons — the second of which is too often overlooked. First, she established herself as a social conservative, saying repeatedly and unapologetically that she would have voted against legalising gay marriage “as a matter of conscience”. Second, she hinted at plans to remould the social democratic profile of the SNP.

Forbes’ vow in 2023 to pursue “smaller, focussed government … [and] accelerate reform” was an unsubtle challenge to the ideological underpinnings of Sturgeonite rule. This latter pledge in particular, as far as the SNP’s old guard was concerned, could not be put into practice.

Crucially, Forbes’ supporters are already indicating that they are unhappy with the SNP’s Swinney coronation plans. Annabelle Ewing MSP, who backed Forbes in 2023, is one who has urged the former runner-up to run again. “It has to be the new generation [and] Kate Forbes”, she said in a post on X/Twitter not long after Yousaf resigned yesterday.

Fergus Ewing MSP, who hails from the same famed Scottish political dynasty as Annabelle, has also backed Forbes. Speaking to The Spectator today, he insisted that the SNP needs a “new start”. Also falling behind Forbes are Joanna Cherry MP and Ivan McKee MSP.

So, while there is no doubt as to the identity of the frontrunner, only time will tell whether the SNP’s pro-Swinney clique get the bloodless succession they so crave.

Lunchtime briefing

Humza Yousaf’s resignation could be ‘good news’ for the SNP, says polling expert

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