Kate Forbes is the public’s favourite to become the next First Minister of Scotland, a new poll has suggested.
The Ipsos survey, commissioned on behalf of Channel 4 News, found the finance secretary has an eight-point lead against her closest rival Humza Yousaf.
Asked who they thought would make the best First Minister based on what they have heard so far, a third (32%) of the Scottish public backed Forbes.
Yousaf came in second with nearly a quarter (24%) supporting him while fellow SNP leadership hopeful Ash Regan fell in at third place with 8% of Scots backing her.
Some 24% of respondents said none of the candidates would make a good First Minister while 11% said they did not know.
The poll found Yousaf and Forbes were neck and neck among 2021 SNP voters, with 33% backing the health secretary and 32% backing the finance secretary.
The poll of 1503 Scottish adults was conducted between March 6-7 before the STV leadership debate.
It includes a subsample of 582 SNP voters at the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections.
Ipsos found Scots most wanted to hear about the candidates’ plans for the NHS (81%), the cost of living crisis (76%) and growing Scotland’s economy (59%).
Securing Scottish independence came in at number ten on voters’ priorities, with 29% voicing it as the issue they would most like to hear the candidates’ plans on.
Among SNP voters, this rises to 60%, making it the group’s third most important issue behind the NHS (79%) and the cost of living (76%).
The publication of the poll follows STV’s SNP leadership debate.
During the event, Forbes said that “more of the same” in the government was “an acceptance of mediocrity”.
The finance secretary also attacked Yousaf for his track record in government, saying he had presided over the highest NHS waiting times on record.
The start of the SNP campaign had been dogged by questions around Forbes’ views on social issues.
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch said in February that she would have voted against same-sex marriage in 2014 if she was an MSP at the time.
On Thursday, the poll found a majority (57%) of the public feel uncomfortable with politicians voting on policies that affect people’s marriage and relationships according to their personal religious beliefs.
Only 18% of those polled said they felt “very” or “fairly” comfortable with it while 22% said they took neither view.