Who could become Scotland's next first minister?

With Humza Yousaf set to resign as FM - all eyes are on who may replace him.

Who could run to become Scotland’s next first minister after Humza Yousaf? STV News
Key Points
  • John Swinney said he was giving ‘very careful consideration’ to standing
  • Kate Forbes and Neil Gray are other SNP MSPs who could run to replace Yousaf

Scotland is set to have its seventh first minister since the Scottish Parliament was formed in 1999 – and its third in just two years.

Humza Yousaf announced on Monday afternoon that he will step down as the nation’s leader amid the threat of no-confidence votes this week.

He is the youngest and first person of colour to hold the role.

He won the SNP leadership contest in March last year following the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon and was voted in by MSPs a day later.

He defeated rivals Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, the latter of which then defected to Alex Salmond’s Alba Party.

STV News looks at the people who could replace Yousaf to become Scotland’s next leader.

John Swinney

John Swinney has suggested he could run despite ruling himself out at last year's election.Getty Images

Former party leader John Swinney said he was giving “very careful consideration” to standing.

“I’ve been somewhat overwhelmed by the requests that have been made for me to do that,” he said.

He is an SNP stalwart and considered by many in the party to be pragmatic and a safe pair of hands.

He was previously deputy first minister under Nicola Sturgeon, a close ally, and has been in Holyrood since it was established in 1999.

But he may be resistant to running, as he was in the last leadership election, for personal reasons.

Last year, he said not running was the “right thing for my family, the Scottish National Party and our country”.

Asked if he was considering standing to be Scotland’s next first minister, SNP MSP and former deputy first minister Swinney said: “I’m giving very careful consideration to standing to be the leader of the SNP.

He said he had “many” requests from colleagues to stand and plans to carefully consider whether or not to stand and to discuss it with his family.

Less than an hour after Yousaf’s resignation, Keith Brown – the SNP’s deputy leader – called on Swinney to run.

He said: “I would like to thank Humza for the energy, enthusiasm and integrity he has shown over the last year.

“We now need experience, engagement and unity, and I very much hope that John Swinney will put himself forward.”

Veteran SNP MP Pete Wishart and former SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford have also backed Swinney.

Kate Forbes

Kate Forbes was narrowly beaten at the last SNP leadership election.Getty Images

Forbes is considered among one of the most likely people to take over from Yousaf as SNP leader and as first minister.

She was only narrowly beaten by Yousaf in last year’s SNP leadership – 48% to 52% – and she has a real chance of winning the next ballot.

She has made it clear during Yousaf’s premiership that she didn’t want to rule out throwing her hat into the SNP ring again.

But the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch would face a tougher time being elected as Scotland’s first minister.

The SNP only has 63 out of Holyrood’s 129 seats, meaning she would need the support of opposition parties.

That’s originally why the Bute House Agreement was formed. It gave Nicola Sturgeon a majority under an alliance with the Greens.

The Greens, who are historically allies of the SNP, have already ruled out backing Forbes.

“To go for someone who is economically and socially conservative would be a further, deeply serious misstep,” Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie told STV News.

“There are clearly some on the right wing of the SNP who are less able – not just to work with us, but to bring together the majority of the parliament. Even less so than Yousaf.

“I appeal to those in the SNP to look among their members and decide who is best placed to bring that majority together.”

Forbes came under fire last year during the SNP leadership contest for her views on social issues, namely abortion and LGBT rights.

She is also considered to be more economically conservative than Yousaf.

The lack of support from the Greens means she would need the support of the Tories or Labour.

That’s a tough ask.

Neil Gray

Neil Gray is an ally of Humza Yousaf.

The health secretary is a close ally of Humza Yousaf.

He has only been the MSP for Airdrie and Shotts since 2021 but was an MP for the same region six years before that.

Ahead of becoming health secretary, he previously served as culture minister under Nicola Sturgeon and then as energy secretary under Yousaf.

Before entering politics, he was a journalist at BBC Radio Orkney, where he grew up.

Anas Sarwar

Anas Sarwar's Labour party has 22 seats at Holyrood.Getty Images

The Scottish Labour leader is considered unlikely to become first minister.

He would need the backing of Tory, LibDem and Green MSPs – an unlikely alliance – as well as one more MSP to reach a majority of 65.

The prospects of a Sarwar premiership become more likely if a Scottish Parliament election is held.

Polls suggest that Labour is on course to win more seats at both the next Scottish and UK elections.

But they are unlikely to win a majority, even if they return more seats than the SNP, and would still need to rely on a combination of votes between Labour, the Greens and the Tories.

Douglas Ross

Douglas Ross's Tories are the second-largest party in Holyrood with 31 MSPs.Getty Images

The Scottish Tory leader is also unlikely to become Scotland’s next first minister.

He faces the same issue around numbers as Sarwar – but his party is far, far less likely to be backed by the Greens.

The Scottish Tories are the second largest party in Holyrood with 32 MSPs but they would need the LibDems, Greens and Labour plus another MSP – either from the SNP or Alba’s Ash Regan.

That is far-fetched, to say the least.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

Alex Cole-Hamilton is unlikely to become Scotland's next first minister.

Like the leaders of Labour and the Tories, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats doesn’t have numbers on his side.

His party only has four MSPs in Holyrood.

Jenny Gilruth

Jenny Gilruth currently serves as Scotland's education secretary.Scottish Government

Jenny Girluth is one of the most senior members of the Scottish Government.

She has served as culture minister under Nicola Sturgeon, then as transport minister and finally as education secretary under Yousaf.

She is seen as being on the more progressive side of the party and is a candidate who could be backed by the Greens.

Some newspapers have reported that Gilruth had already begun thinking about a leadership election prior to Yousaf’s announcement to resign.

She has been the MSP for Mid Fife and Glenrothes since 2016 and is married to former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale.

Angus Robertson

Angus Robertos is an SNP veteran but ruled himself out at last year's SNP leadership contest.Getty Images

Angus Robertson is an experienced politician, having served as culture secretary since 2021.

Before becoming the MSP for Edinburgh Central, he was the MP for Moray from 2001 to 2017.

Between 2007 until his defeat by Douglas Ross as an MP in 2017, he was the SNP’s Westminster leader.

When Nicola Sturgeon resigned last year, Roberton said he had been approached by a number of people to run as SNP leader.

But he said, as a father of two young girls, that it wasn’t the right time for him.

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