Party leadership

Forbes and Yousaf neck and neck in SNP race

SNP leadership contenders
Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan and competing to be the next SNP leader

SNP leadership contender Kate Forbes is more popular among the public than her main rival Humza Yousaf, though they are neck and neck with SNP supporters in a new poll ahead of the result being declared on Monday.

Ms Forbes gets a 27% favourability score among all voters, against Mr Yousaf’s 22%, but he is ahead among SNP supporters, by 38% to Ms Forbes’ 37%. Taking into account all views of the candidates by party supporters he has a five-point net lead.

Polling by Ipsos shows that outgoing Nicola Sturgeon remains the most popular leader, not only in Scotland, but across the UK.

Polling took place between 17 and 21 March and finds that: 

  • The Scottish public are more favourable towards Kate Forbes than towards Humza Yousaf, although none of the three candidates for First Minister receives a positive approval rating. 
  • When it comes to SNP voters, views are closer, with 38% favourable towards Yousaf and 37% favourable towards Forbes.
  • Nicola Sturgeon remains the most popular Scottish party leader – ahead of all her potential successors – and her ratings have improved since February.
  • Nearing three in five of the public say they have been following news about the SNP leadership election closely.

Ms Forbes has a ‘net’ favourability score of -8, with 27% of the public saying they have a favourable opinion of her and 35% unfavourable.

Mr Yousaf’s net score is lower at -20 (22% favourable, 42% unfavourable).

Third candidate Ash Regan is lower still at -24 (14% favourable, 38% unfavourable), while 13% of the public say they don’t know enough to rate her.

Ratings for Mr Yousaf and Ms Forbes are closer among SNP voters. Mr Yousaf has a net score of +11 (38% favourable, 27% unfavourable) while Ms Forbes’ rating is +6 (37% favourable, 31% unfavourable). Ms Regan receives a net score of -7 among SNP voters (22% favourable, 29% favourable). 

Outgoing leader Ms Sturgeon remains the most popular of the Scottish and Westminster political leaders included in our poll.

Her ratings have improved compared with Ipsos’ previous poll, taken 30 January to 1 February. She is also viewed much more favourably than any of her potential successors. 

  • 46% of Scots have a favourable opinion of Nicola Sturgeon, while 38% have an unfavourable opinion, giving her a net favourability score of +8 (higher than the neutral net score recorded in Ipsos’ previous poll).
  • 77% of SNP voters have a favourable opinion of her, more than double the result for any of the three leadership candidates. 
  • Rishi Sunak’s ratings among Scots have improved a little, although they remain low: 57% of Scots have an unfavourable opinion of him, with just 20% favourable. 
  • Douglas Ross has a similarly low net favourability score – just 15% are favourable towards the Scottish Conservative leader, with 54% unfavourable.
  • Opinion on both Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and UK Labour leader Keir Starmer remains divided.

Views of political parties

The Scottish National Party remains the most popular of Scotland’s political parties, although no party receives a positive net score among the public.

The SNP receives a net score of -1, with 38% of Scots saying they have a favourable view of the party and 39% an unfavourable one.

Labour scores -4 (29% favourable, 33% favourable), with the Scottish Greens and Scottish Liberal Democrats further behind on -14 and -22 respectively.

The Scottish Conservatives receive the most negative net score of -42, with just 15% of Scots expressing a favourable view of the party and 57% unfavourable.

What news are people paying attention to?

58% of the public say they’ve been following news about the SNP leadership election closely. For comparison, 87% say they have been closely following news about the cost of living and 71% about the NHS in Scotland, while 49% say they have been following news about the Gender Recognition Act closely.

Emily Gray, Managing Director of Ipsos in Scotland, commented: “As the SNP leadership contest nears its close, neither Humza Yousaf nor Kate Forbes has managed to open up a clear lead among the party’s voters – though of course it is the party membership who will decide.

“Meanwhile as Nicola Sturgeon prepares to step down as First Minister she remains much better regarded by the public than any of the three candidates to succeed her, or any of the other Scottish party leaders.

“Scottish Labour have had a spring in their step in recent weeks, but these findings indicate the party has work to do if they are to substantially improve their ratings among the Scottish public.”

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