SNP leadership

Public give Forbes six-point lead over Swinney

Rivals: John Swinney and Kate Forbes

SNP members are braced for a short but potentially divisive leadership election that threatens to reopen old rivalries.

Former leader John Swinney and defeated leadership candidate Kate Forbes are poised to go head-to-head in the battle to become Humza Yousaf’s successor, with Ms Forbes edging ahead among the electorate.

A poll conducted by Ipsos on 29-30 April, showed SNP voters are most likely to favour Mr Swinney, while the public give Ms Forbes a six-point lead.

The pair do not enjoy a close relationship and are unlikely to hold back in their efforts to win support.

Mr Swinney was angered by Ms Forbes’ trashing of her own government’s record during the televised leadership debates last year, while Mr Swinney will have to defend his own shortcomings as a minister, notably as the Education Secretary.

Nominations have opened for candidates after Mr Yousaf resigned as party leader and First Minister on Monday and it appears unlikely that others will join the fray, despite some support for Health Secretary Neil Gray, the veteran former minister Fergus Ewing, and Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth.

Ms Forbes confirmed she was weighing up whether to run following a “groundswell of support” from members.

Ivan McKee, the former trade minister, and Joanna Cherry are among those saying they would like to see Ms Forbes have another shot at the leadership.

Mr Swinney, who led the party between 2000 and 2004, could yet decide against standing and says “family circumstances” will determine whether he goes ahead.

However, he is regarded as a popular figure and a safe pair of hands within the party and can already count on cabinet ministers including Mr Gray, Ms Gilruth and both the Economy Secretary Màiri McAllan and Stephen Flynn, the SNP leader at Westminster.

Labour has said it will proceed with a no confidence motion in the government despite a plea from the Greens to drop it as they will not back it and it is therefore destined to fail.

The Ipsos poll shows a clear majority (81%) of the public say it was the right decision for Mr Yousaf to resign, while 10% say it was wrong. 

Reflecting on his time in office as First Minister, half of the public (51%) say he has made no difference to Scotland, while just 8% say that he has changed Scotland for the better and 37% that he has changed it for the worse.

Two in five (39%) of the public say a Labour-led Scottish Government would do a better job than an SNP-led Scottish Government, outweighing the 27% who say it would do a worse job. A similar proportion (28%) say it would make no difference.

However, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar is not as highly rated by the public as a potential First Minister as either Mr Swinney or Ms Forbes, with 31% saying he would do a good job (vs. 37% for both Swinney and Forbes)

Emily Gray, managing director of Ipsos in Scotland, said: “The SNP will be looking to select a leader who can unite the party, secure cooperation from opposition parties so that laws and budgets can be passed and reverse the party’s slide in the polls.

“While Swinney may be better placed than Forbes to address the first two of those, on the third point the evidence suggests that Forbes may currently have wider appeal among the electorate than Swinney does.”

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