Latest – Who’s backing who in the SNP leadership race? –

Nominations for the SNP leadership race closed last week with three candidates set to be put to the membership.

Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf, finance secretary Kate Forbes and former community safety minister Ash Regan all secured places on the ballot paper to replace Nicola Sturgeon, having successfully reached the minimum of 100 nominations from at least 20 local party branches to advance.

After a period of campaigning, the SNP party membership will be asked to vote using the single transferable vote (STV) system, with a winner announced on March 27. The membership ballot will run from March 13 to the close date of the 27th.

The race is still wide open with a recent poll indicating that there remain a significant number of undecideds. A Panelbase poll for The Sunday Times put Forbes in the lead, but with only 23%, ahead of Yousaf on 15% and outsider Regan on 7%.

There will now be a renewed push from every candidate to secure the backing of key SNP MSPs and MPs, as they look to shore up their support within the party ahead of March 27. has broken down the key backers of each candidate at this early stage in the race. 

Humza Yousaf 

Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf has emerged as the SNP establishment candidate or continuity candidate in the race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon. 

Among his high-profile supporters are former SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford and current deputy leader Mhairi Black.

Announcing his support over the weekend, Blackford tweeted: “As a nation, we require a first minister who will ensure that we deliver in government and lead us forward to guarantee Scotland’s voice is heard in an independence referendum. … Humza is that leader”.

Humza Yousaf has served as the cabinet secretary for health and social care at Holyrood since May 2021.

Similarly, deputy Westminster leader Black said that Yousaf was the only candidate willing “stand up for our Scottish Parliament’s democratic right to legislate free from Westminster interference”. 

Black was a referring to Yousaf’s commitment to challenge the UK government over its veto of Holyrood’s controversial gender recognition reforms. Both Forbes and Regan have been critical of the gender reform legislation passed by Holyrood, with Regan quitting her post in the Scottish government in order to vote against it.

Among the other MPs backing Yousaf are the SNP’s Westminster home affairs spokesperson Alison Thewliss, justice spokesperson Anne McLaughlin and levelling up spokesperson Chris Stephens.

Yousaf also counts on the support of MPs Chris Law, Amy Callaghan, Stewart Hosie, Stuart MacDonald, Anne McLaughlin, Anum Qaisar, Tommy Sheppard, Owen Thompson and Pete Wishart. 

Key MSP backers include environment minister Màiri McAllan, who was considering a run for the top job herself, as well as Neil Gray, another individual touted by some as a potential leadership candidate. 

Other prominent backers at Holyrood are Scottish social justice secretary Shona Robison, who navigated the controversial gender reform recognition bill through parliament; education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville; and Michael Matheson, who serves as secretary for net zero, energy and transport. 

Kate Forbes

Kate Forbes has enjoyed a troubled start to her leadership bid, coming under for her comments on abortion and same-sex marriage. The finance secretary is a member of the Free Church of Scotland, which follows a strict interpretation of the Bible.

As a result of her position on such social issues, the finance secretary lost a number of key backers. These include MSPs Gillian Martin, Richard Lochhead, Tom Arthur, Clare Haughey and MP Drew Hendry, 

Announcing that she was withdrawing her support for Forbes, Gillian Martin tweeted: “We must be full throated in our support of equal marriage. No if or buts. I won’t be supporting Kate’s campaign on that basis. I wish her well – she’s extremely talented. But I have red lines. And this is one”.

Serving as finance secretary at Holyrood since February 2020, Kate Forbes has come under fire for her comments on abortion and same-sex marriage.

However, Forbes has also retained the support of key elected officials. Among these include: gender reform rebels Michelle Thomson, Ruth Maguire, Annabelle Ewing and Jim Fairlie, as well as other MSPs David Torrance, Siobhan Brown and Ivan McKee, who works under Forbes at Holyrood as business minister

UK parliamentarians Douglas Chapman and Angus MacNeil also continue to support Forbes. 

Alex Neil, a former SNP MSP who served as health secretary for two years in Alex Salmond’s government, is another backer of Forbes’ candidacy. Neil has been a prominent critic of Nicola Sturgeon and has emerged as a thorn in the side of Forbes’ chief rival Yousaf. The former health secretary said he remembers Yousaf asking to be allowed to skip Holyrood’s vote on same-sex marriage in 2014 because of pressure from religious leaders opposed the reform.

Mr Neil, who led the equal marriage legislation through Holyrood, told The Herald: “The truth is he asked to be ‘skipped’ because he was under pressure and he then arranged a ministerial meeting, and that was his cover for not voting, and if he says anything different it’s not true”.

Ash Regan 

Ash Regan is an outsider candidate to replace Nicola Sturgeon, with the former communities minister lagging behind in the polls and with relatively few declared backers. 

Regan’s most prominent backer is Joanna Cherry MP, the chair of the joint committee on human rights at Westminster. She was the SNP’s justice spokesperson before being sacked from the front bench for her outspoken opposition to gender recognition reforms.

Announcing her support, Cherry said: “I’m proud to support Ash given her solid left wing credentials … and the courage and leadership she has shown in standing up for the rights of women and girls”.

Yet to declare their support

Among the prominent SNP officials yet to declare their support are Keith Brown, depute leader of the SNP; Stephen Flynn, SNP leader at Westminster; Angus Robertson, secretary for the constitution at Holyrood; and John Swinney, deputy first minister of Scotland and former leader of the SNP from 2000-2004 

Current first minister Nicola Sturgeon has refused to declare her support for any of the candidates vying to replace her. 

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