Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan launch bids to become SNP leaderon February 19, 2023 at 1:00 pm

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Justice Secretary Keith Brown and Neil Gray, international development minister, rule themselves out.

Composite image of Humza Yousaf and Ash ReganImage source, Getty Images

Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and former minister Ash Regan have announced they will stand to take over from Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister.

The pair, who revealed their plans to run in the Sunday Mail, are the first to declare their candidacy.

Other candidates tipped to stand are Finance Minister Kate Forbes and Justice Secretary Keith Brown.

The winner of the race is due to be announced on 27 March.

Meanwhile Neil Gray, the minister for culture, Europe and international development, has ruled himself out of the leadership race, and given his backing to Mr Yousaf.

Announcing his leadership bid in the Scottish newspaper, Mr Yousaf says he had been through a “rollercoaster of emotions” since the longstanding first minister and SNP leader Ms Sturgeon announced her shock resignation on Wednesday, after eight years.

He says: “You’ve got to put yourself forward if you think you’re the best person for the job. And I do. This is the top job in the country, and it needs somebody who has experience.”

Mr Yousaf, who first became an MSP in 2011, has been a prominent figure on the SNP frontbenches in every Scottish administration since and has been considered a strong leadership candidate for many years.

But the 37-year-old’s time as justice minister saw him bogged down in controversy surrounding the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill – which faced backlash over its impact on freedom of expression.

He has also been criticised for his running of the NHS in Scotland, which experienced the hardest winter in its history in recent months.

Ms Sturgeon has faced repeated calls from opposition parties to sack Mr Yousaf, with waiting times at record highs and doctors warning that the country’s hospitals are not safe for patients.

On Friday, Mr Yousaf pointed to the record pay offer he made to NHS staff, which he said was likely to avoid strike action for the next financial year.

Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House

Image source, PA Media

For her part, Ms Regan tells the Sunday Mail the SNP “need to bring back unity, draw a line under certain things and move past them”, adding her belief that she is “the person to do that”.

This statement is a reference to her views over the controversial the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, the SNP’s proposed reforms to how people can change their legal gender in Scotland – which was subsequently blocked by the Westminster government.

Before it was approved by a majority in Holyrood, the SNP’s former community safety minister had quit in protest over it and became an outspoken critic of the legislation.

Writing in the Sunday Mail, Ms Regan says: “The electorate expect the Scottish government to focus on things that are important to them.

“That means the NHS, which is still struggling to get back on its feet after the pandemic. People expect a first minister to concentrate on boosting the economy, creating jobs and helping them deal with the cost-of-living crisis.”

In a later post on Twitter she outlined a plan to call for independence convention to be held to “create a new vision of an independent Scotland”.

And she backed proposals to use either a Westminster or Holyrood election as a de facto referendum on Scottish independence.

After Ms Sturgeon’s announcement, Ms Regan, 48, called for SNP members who left the party in the past year to be given a vote in the leadership race.

But this proposal was described as “preposterous” by Deputy First Minister John Swinney – who has already ruled himself out of the contest.

Neil Gray

Image source, SNP

In a post on Twitter, Neil Gray said it had been “incredibly flattering” to have been suggested as a candidate to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as first minister.

But he added: “I have seriously considered, with family and colleagues, whether I am the right person to do that job.

“I have concluded that with my children the age they are, and given I am relatively new to government, now is not the right time for me.”

He said Humza Yousaf had the “skills and experience” for the job and he was giving him his full support.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn and high-profile MP Joanna Cherry have also said they will not run for the leadership.

Other potential candidates said to be weighing up whether to throw their hats in the ring are Finance Secretary Kate Forbes – who is currently on maternity leave – and SNP deputy leader Keith Brown.

Nominations for the leadership contest will close at noon on Friday.

A party conference scheduled for 19 March to discuss the SNP’s strategy for winning Scottish independence has been postponed.

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