SNP leadership contest: What happens after one of Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan is elected as party leader?

Tomorrow the SNP will announce the winner of what has been a bruising, uncomfortable leadership contest for the party. With the news will come confirmation of who will be Scotland’s next first minister.

So what happens in the coming days and weeks for that successful individual, what could potentially trip them up and what is in their in-tray?


First there must be a winner of the SNP's leadership contest, a decision we are expected to hear the verdict of tomorrow afternoon after voting closes in the contest at noon.

One of the three leadership candidates is set to become First Minister this week.One of the three leadership candidates is set to become First Minister this week.
One of the three leadership candidates is set to become First Minister this week.
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They will immediately become SNP leader, but will have to wait to become first minister.

Following the announcement of the winner, Nicola Sturgeon will formally tender her resignation as First Minister to King Charles, as is required under the Scotland Act.

Simultaneously, all of the political appointees – most notably special advisers – will leave their roles.

Holyrood has 28 days to nominate an MSP as a successor, meaning a formal resignation triggers a chain of events including the election of the new first minister by MSPs on the afternoon of Tuesday.

Any MSP can be nominated, providing they are seconded by another MSP, meaning the leaders of the main opposition parties, Scottish Conservative’s Douglas Ross, Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar, and Scottish Liberal Democrat’s Alex-Cole Hamilton, may choose to put themselves forward to provide some opposition to the new leader of the SNP.

MSPs can also choose to abstain. However these votes are counted as part of the total number of votes when it comes to choosing a winner.

If there is just one or two candidates, a simple majority is all that is required. However, with three or more candidates, a candidate will win when the number of votes for them exceeds the total number of votes cast for all the other candidates. If this doesn’t happen, the person with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and voting restarts.

If no candidate reaches this threshold for 28 days, an election would be called.

What happens after the next First Minister is chosen by MSPs?

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After a first minister is chosen by MSPs, the Presiding Officer recommends to the King the member be appointed as such. This takes place through an exchange of letters, which also sees the King sign the Royal Warrant.

On Wednesday, the new head of the Scottish Government will be taken to the Court of Session in Edinburgh to be sworn in.

They will hand the principal clerk the warrant from the King, which is then acknowledged by the Lord President, before the new first minister acknowledges the official declaration. It is at this point the new SNP leader legally becomes the new first minister.

Despite an attempt from the SNP to ensure the new first minister is able to have a bedding-in period prior to their first serious bout in the Holyrood chamber, the first First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) of the new first minister is set to take place on Thursday.

Between the formal swearing-in and FMQs, however, the first minister may choose to appoint the first members of their Cabinet.

With John Swinney, the current deputy first minister, set to resign his post at the same time as Ms Sturgeon, the top two jobs in the Scottish Government will be newly vacant.

The first minister is able to appoint any MSP as a minister, and is able to change the portfolios which those ministers cover.

This often results in prospective members of the government arriving to Bute House and being photographed as they enter the building to be told their new job.

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The destination of Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf in each other’s potential Cabinets will be watched closely, as will where their closest allies end up.

Back to work

Following First Minister’s Questions on Thursday and further parliamentary business, Holyrood enters the Easter recess until April 17. This will provide the new first minister with breathing space during which they can get their feet under the table, potentially finish appointing special advisers and junior ministers.

However, they will also face a mounting list of issues and crises they will have to understand and develop a response to within days.

In a new paper published this week, the Reform Scotland think-tank has called on the new first minister to immediately reset the relationship between the Government and business, scrap the National Care Service, reform education, and provide a clear route to net zero.

It also called for NHS reform, revitalised local democracy, and a broadening of the tax base.

Reform Scotland director Chris Deerin said: “A thriving business community is essential to Scotland’s welfare. It is where new jobs are created, where economic growth occurs, and where tax revenues are generated. And yet a continued complaint during Nicola Sturgeon’s tenure has been of a poor relationship with the sector.

"The next first minister must urgently re-set this relationship. They need to listen to, and work with, the business community.

“The National Care Service should be scrapped and a new social insurance fund established to pay for social care, with the help of a 1p increase in income tax to start paying for it. There has not been adequate explanation about why simply removing local government from social care will lead to an improvement in delivery.”

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Opposition politicians have also pointed at a mounting in-tray of issues. Craig Hoy, the Scottish Conservative party chairman, said it was clear the next SNP leader would likely focus on independence.

“That means that, just like under Nicola Sturgeon, the real priorities of Scotland will be forgotten about,” he said. “She is leaving behind a litany of failures on a whole range of issues, and has left her successor an ever-growing in-tray to sort out.

“Whoever emerges victorious should stop obsessing about another referendum and focus on the issues that matter to Scots, such as the cost-of-living crisis and the overwhelming pressures facing our NHS.”

Jackie Baillie, the deputy leader of Scottish Labour, said the next first minister’s in-tray will be “overflowing” with “crumbling public services. She said: “The defining challenges of the next government will be helping Scots through this cost of living crisis and tackling the chaos engulfing our NHS.

“Nicola Sturgeon’s successor will also have to take over her so-called ‘defining mission’ to close the attainment gap and get Scotland back on track to meet our legal and moral duties to reduce child poverty.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton said the leadership debate had seen the SNP “knocking chunks out of each other”. He said: “From day one, the next FM must devote their attention to tackling the NHS crisis, bringing down the cost of living and combating the climate emergency. The nationalists are tired, divided and taking Scots for granted.”

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