EDINBURGH: A new Scottish first minister will be named on Monday (Mar 27), with the leader facing the daunting task of reviving a faltering independence movement after Nicola Sturgeon’s surprise resignation.
Members of the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) will wrap up two weeks of voting at noon (11am GMT), with the result to be announced later in the day.
Finance minister Kate Forbes and health minister Humza Yousaf are favourites in the three-way race, according to an Ipsos poll conducted between Mar 17 and Mar 21.
Ash Regan, a former minister in Sturgeon’s Cabinet, is an outsider in the contest.
At her last session in the Scottish parliament as first minister last Thursday, Sturgeon said that her successor would be either the second woman in the post or the first from a minority ethnic background.
“Either way, that will send the very powerful message that this, the highest office in the land, is one that any young person in Scotland can aspire to,” she added.
Whoever wins takes over as support stagnates for the SNP’s central policy – independence for Scotland – that Sturgeon has championed.
Polling indicates that around 45 per cent of Scots are currently in favour of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom, after 55 per cent of Scots rejected such a move in a 2014 vote.
“I think many of us are disappointed that there hasn’t been more of a sustained movement in support of independence,” said Forbes, who at 32 would become one of the world’s youngest political leaders if she wins.
“I think it’s for the people of Scotland to determine when they want to become an independent country,” she told a candidates’ debate last week.
“There is no path to independence without persuading ‘no’ voters to vote ‘yes’.”
For Yousaf, 37, too much time had been spent pointing out the UK government in London’s failures and not enough on creating a vision for an independent Scotland.
He promised a civic movement to drive the campaign.
Regan, 49, has proposed a commission to run the independence campaign separately from the Scottish government.
According to Ipsos, Forbes has the most support among the general public, with 27 per cent showing a favourable opinion of her compared to 22 per cent for Yousaf and 14 percent for Regan.
Among the SNP membership, which decides on the leader, 38 per cent view Yousaf favourably, compared to 37 per cent for Forbes and 22 per cent for Regan.
Forbes has come under the spotlight for her conservative views as a member of the Free Church of Scotland, which opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.
Yousaf, who has close ties with Sturgeon, has faced criticism over his record in successive roles in the Scottish government.
Sturgeon, 52, has served as first minister since November 2014 and resigned unexpectedly last month, claiming she felt unable to give “every ounce of energy” to the job.
In her final months in office she faced uproar about a new law allowing anyone over 16 to change their gender without a medical diagnosis.
The law would have allowed a transgender woman who was convicted of rape before she began transitioning to serve a prison sentence in a women-only facility.
As debate raged, the UK government used an unprecedented veto to block the legislation.
The UK Supreme Court last year also ruled that the Scottish government could not hold a new referendum on sovereignty without UK approval.
Several polls have since shown waning popular support for breaking away.
But Sturgeon said she has “every confidence” that her successor will lead this country to independence.