2023 Scottish National Party leadership election

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Event.png 2023 Scottish National Party leadership election (election) Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
SNP leadership election.jpg
Date13 March 2023 - 27 March 2023
DescriptionWho will succeed Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party?

The 2023 Scottish National Party leadership election took place from 13 to 27 March 2023 when SNP members voted to choose the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) to succeed Nicola Sturgeon who announced her resignation on 15 February 2023, effective upon the selection of her successor.[1]

Nominations closed on 24 February 2023 with three candidates: Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf.[2]

Humza Yousaf was elected the new leader on 27 March with 24,336 first preference votes (48.2%), and 26,032 votes (52.1%) after third-placed candidate Ash Regan's second preferences were redistributed.[3]

Turnout was 69.97%, with 50,494 ballot papers being received from a total of just 72,169 SNP members. Before the leadership election, the SNP had been reticent in revealing its membership figures. These are now shown to have fallen by over 53,500 since the peak in 2019 when the SNP boasted a membership of nearly 126,000.[4]


Declined to endorse

  • Keith Brown, depute leader of the SNP
  • John Mason, MSP for Glasgow Shettleston
  • Stuart McMillan, MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde
  • Nicola Sturgeon, Outgoing leader of the SNP

Kate Forbes endorsements

Kate Forbes has been endorsed by ten MSPs:

  • Colin Beattie, MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh
  • Siobhian Brown, MSP for Ayr
  • Annabelle Ewing, MSP for Cowdenbeath
  • Fergus Ewing, MSP for Inverness and Nairn
  • Jim Fairlie, MSP for Perthshire South and Kinross-shire
  • Christine Grahame, MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale
  • Ruth Maguire, MSP for Cunninghame South
  • Ivan McKee, Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise
  • Michelle Thomson, MSP for Falkirk East
  • David Torrance, MSP for Kirkcaldy

Forbes has been endorsed by two MPs:

  • Douglas Chapman, MP for Dunfermline and West Fife
  • Angus MacNeil, MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar

Other individuals

Ash Regan endorsements

Ash Regan has been endorsed by one MP:

Other individuals

Humza Yousaf endorsements

Humza Yousaf has been endorsed by thirty MSPs:

  • Karen Adam, MSP for Banffshire & Buchan Coast
  • Clare Adamson, MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw
  • Alasdair Allan, MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar
  • Graeme Dey, MSP for Angus South
  • Natalie Don, MSP for Renfrewshire North and West
  • James Dornan, MSP for Glasgow Cathcart
  • Jackie Dunbar, MSP for Aberdeen Donside
  • Joe FitzPatrick, MSP for Dundee City West
  • Jenny Gilruth, Minister for Transport
  • Neil Gray, Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development[125]
  • Emma Harper, MSP for South Scotland
  • Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training
  • Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport
  • Màiri McAllan, Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform
  • Ben Macpherson, Minister for Social Security and Local Government
  • Christina McKelvie, Minister for Equalities and Older People
  • Paul McLennan, MSP for East Lothian
  • Marie McNair, MSP for Clydebank and Milngavie
  • Audrey Nicoll, MSP for Aberdeen South and North Kincardine
  • Jenni Minto, MSP for Argyll and Bute
  • Angus Robertson, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture
  • Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
  • Emma Roddick, MSP for Highlands and Islands
  • Shirley-Anne Somerville, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
  • Collette Stevenson, MSP for East Kilbride
  • Kaukab Stewart, MSP for Glasgow Kelvin
  • Kevin Stewart, Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care
  • Evelyn Tweed, MSP for Stirling
  • Maree Todd, Minister for Public Health, Women's Health and Sport
  • Elena Whitham, Minister for Community Safety

Yousaf has been endorsed by seventeen MPs:

  • Hannah Bardell, MP for Livingston
  • Mhairi Black, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South
  • Ian Blackford, MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber and former SNP Westminster leader
  • Kirsty Blackman, MP for Aberdeen North
  • Deidre Brock, MP for Edinburgh North and Leith
  • Amy Callaghan, MP for East Dunbartonshire
  • Angela Crawley, MP for Lanark and Hamilton East
  • Stewart Hosie, MP for Dundee East
  • Chris Law, MP for Dundee West
  • Stuart McDonald, MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East
  • Anne McLaughlin, MP for Glasgow North East
  • Anum Qaisar, MP for Airdrie and Shotts
  • Tommy Sheppard, MP for Edinburgh East
  • Chris Stephens, MP for Glasgow South West
  • Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central
  • Owen Thompson, MP for Midlothian
  • Pete Wishart, MP for Perth and North Perthshire

Other individuals

  • Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council
  • John Alexander, leader of Dundee City Council
  • Alan Cumming, actor[5]

Unfair contest

On 6 March 2023, Joanna Cherry MP criticised the contest as unfair and claimed the “party machine” was backing Humza Yousaf:

Joanna Cherry has hit out at the unfairness of the SNP’s leadership contest, saying the candidates had been “bounced” into the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon and were forced to come up with their policy packages 'on the hoof'.

A recent poll of 515 SNP members put Humza Yousaf ahead of rivals, with 31 per cent saying they would back him compared to 25% supporting Kate Forbes. Just 11% said they would give their first preference to Ash Regan, who is supported by Joanna Cherry.

Support for Ash Regan

Speaking to the BBC’s "Good Morning Scotland", Ms Cherry said it would be wrong to write off the ex-minister’s bid:

“She's making progress and I've heard a number of people say they've been switched on to her campaign after listening to her properly at the hustings.”
The MP said Ms Regan had shown “great courage and leadership” last year when she resigned as Community Safety Minister over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.
“Ash is on the left of the party socio-economically, which is more in line with my views. And she's got a hinterland beyond politics. And she's worked in business. She's worked in PR, and she's worked in policy with the Common Weal think tank. And I think those are all things the party could benefit from. Also, she wants to bring the Scottish Independence movement back together, and involve them in developing a strategy that will actually deliver Independence.
Ms Cherry said all three candidates faced a “pretty major” problem: “They've been bounced overnight into a very short campaign with no resources, no preparation, no backup team, and no facility or time to develop a policy programme. Now, it's no secret that the party machine is behind Humza, and not behind Kate and Ash. We've already had a couple of cases of people wrongfully using the party's internal mailing system to support Humza.
“So my point is this, the party hasn't had a leadership campaign, a leadership election for nearly 20 years. This election should involve a detailed discussion of policy and strategy for the years going forward. Most of the candidates have had no time to prepare their policy packages and are having to do so on the hoof."
She said it was not fair on the candidates, the membership or the country: “This is not an ideal way to be doing things, but we are where we are.”[6]

Call to restart the election

On 18 March 2023, the SNP was facing demands to restart its leadership contest after Nicola Sturgeon’s husband quit as chief executive and admitted he had misled party members and the Scottish public about the size of the electorate. Peter Murrell, who has run the SNP for almost 25 years, was dramatically ousted on Saturday amid unprecedented turmoil in Scotland’s ruling party, which came to a head after its senior spin doctor quit in a row over inflated membership figures.

Sources close to Ash Regan have demanded that existing ballot papers are discarded and the contest restarted, in light of the turmoil. There have repeatedly been claims that under Murrell’s leadership, the party machine has been working to elect Humza Yousaf, the self-declared “continuity candidate” who has vowed to protect Ms Sturgeon’s legacy.[7]

Call to enable members to change their vote

On 20 March 2023, Ash Regan argued for SNP members to be allowed to change their vote if they wish to, following the row over the reporting of membership numbers.

The Edinburgh Eastern MSP’s team put out a statement which said she has put forward “proposals” to interim party chief executive Michael Russell that “provide assurance to members with minimum disruption to the election process that we can move ahead constructively on”:

“Due to the volatile nature of recent events Ash Regan has held off from media to forge a path forward in conjunction with SNP HQ. The campaign team thanks Mike Russell for stepping in and understanding the situation. There has been a surge in traffic in our campaign mailbox and social media from concerned members, looking for guidance on whether the ballot will go ahead unaltered or if the ballot will be reset.
“My team have put forward proposals that provide assurance to members with minimum disruption to the election process that we can move ahead constructively on. In 2015, selection contests for Westminster candidatures had varying end dates. In some cases, candidates were removed from the ballot before a race ended, where this happened members were able to update their vote. The facility exists within the Mi-Voice system.
“This would have the benefit of not disrupting members who are happy with their vote while providing an opportunity to reconsider for those who are not. In addition, each candidate would be allowed to send one email to the members using the SNP mailing system - allowing a last minute updated message that reflects current events.
“We thank Mike for taking this suggestion seriously and lend our support to the integrity of the ballot. It is important that all parties respect the outcome of the ballot and give full support to the new leader of the SNP.”[8]


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:The beginning of the endblog post27 March 2023Stuart Campbell"I don't think there's any chance Humza Yousaf has won the SNP leadership election legitimately. But this morning I'm deeply worried that those still controlling the party have absolutely nothing left to lose by fixing it in his favour."
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