Who Will Be The Next First Minister of Scotland?
Nicola Sturgeon announced she will be resigning as First Minister (Alamy)
3 min read
Nicola Sturgeon is to stand down as Scotland's First Minister, having served for a record-breaking eight years – and now everyone is asking who will be chosen to replace her.
Sturgeon will remain in office, and as SNP leader, until her party elects a successor (timetable TBC).
But with little in the way of succession planning and no clear favourite, all is now a bit up in the air.
So who are the potential candidates for the next First Minister of Scotland?
The finance secretary, first elected in 2016, came to prominence following her rapid promotion after Derek Mackay (who himself was seen as a frontrunner for the next leader) resigned in February 2020. She is known to be smart and capable, and at 32 would be the youngest First Minister ever.
But as a member of the Free Church of Scotland, Forbes would face questions on her religious beliefs as they related to issues like equal marriage, abortion and the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. That could put her at odds with much of the party’s membership.
The bookies’ favourite, Angus Robertson enjoyed a high profile as the MP for Moray until he was ousted by Douglas Ross in 2017. Upon entering the Scottish Parliament two years ago, he was immediately elevated to Cabinet – reflecting his close relationship with Sturgeon and his years of experience.
As constitution secretary, he’s been the architect of the Scottish Government’s indyref planning. As a result, some may consider him too close to Sturgeon if the party believes it needs to change tack.
Once considered to be the most likely successor to Sturgeon, having been in parliament since 2011 and having held a range of government jobs, the beleaguered health secretary has had a tough time of late which may impact his ambitions. He has faced calls to resign over his handling of the NHS, particularly waiting times. But he has enjoyed a great deal of air time appearing alongside the FM in this role since May 2021.
Like Forbes, at 37 he would be the youngest person to hold the office – and also the first BAME and Muslim FM.
As a former SNP leader (2000-04) and current deputy first minister (since 2014), Swinney may be seen as the safest pair of hands. But much like Sturgeon, he has become a bit of a 'Marmite' figure. He also resigned at leader in 2004 owing to sustained internal division… But the party is, of course, no stranger to re-electing old leaders.
And if there is a feeling of there being no obvious contender, there is potential here for Swinney to become the caretaker FM (a la Vince Cable with the Lib Dems) while a more detailed succession plan in shaped.
Other unlikely names mentioned to take over include Europe minister Neil Gray (and not just because Holyrood named him ‘One To Watch’ last year…), SNP depute Keith Brown, net zero secretary Michael Matheson, MP Stewart Hosie and relatively-new Westminster leader Stephen Flynn.
Douglas Ross and Anas Sarwar
Ok, ok, yes it’s a very, very long shot but technically since the election for the SNP leader is entirely separate to the First Minister election (which will be help in parliament and voted on by MPs), either of these two opposition leaders may put their hat into the ring. Ruth Davidson did just that in 2014.
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