Who could replace Humza Yousaf as Scotland’s first minister?

Who could replace Humza Yousaf as Scotland's first minister?

Humza Yousaf has announced he is standing down as Scotland’s first minister and SNP leader.

Here are some of the potential contenders who could step up to lead the country.

Follow live: Humza Yousaf resigns as Scotland’s first minister


John Swinney. Pic: PA

John Swinney is the first to announce he is giving “very careful consideration” to the prospect of throwing his hat into the ring.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Swinney said: “I’m giving very careful consideration to standing to be the leader of the SNP.

“I’ve been somewhat overwhelmed by the requests that have been made of me to do that, with many, many messages from many colleagues across the party.”

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Mr Swinney stood down as deputy first minister following Ms Sturgeon’s shock resignation in 2023.

The former SNP leader, who resigned from that post in 2004 following poor European parliament election results, is clearly tempted to once again step into the spotlight following his year on the backbenches.

The MSP for Perthshire North, who was finance secretary under Alex Salmond’s government, has the experience to hold the fort following Mr Yousaf’s departure.

He ruled himself out of the 2023 leadership race, citing that he had to put his young family first.

John Swinney arrives to speak to the media outside the Resolution Foundation.
Pic: PA
Mr Swinney on Monday. Pic: PA

Mr Swinney said he’s got “lots of things to think about”.

He added: “There’s the whole question of my family. And I have to make sure that I do the right thing by my family, they are precious to me.

“I have to do the right thing by my party and by my country. So, there’s lots to be thought about and I’ll give all of that consideration in the days to come.”

Senior figures within the SNP, including long-serving MP Pete Wishart, former Westminster leader Ian Blackford, and fellow MP Alyn Smith are all calling for him to stand.

Mr Wishart posted on X: “John Swinney would be an excellent unifier for our country and our party. We should all get behind him if he chooses to run.”


Pic: PA
Former finance secretary Kate Forbes arrives at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry hearing at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC). The hearing is examining core UK decision-making and political governance in Scotland. Picture date: Tuesday January 30, 2024.
Kate Forbes. Pic: PA

Kate Forbes narrowly lost out to Mr Yousaf in last year’s SNP leadership contest.

A source close to Ms Forbes has told Sky News she is “actively considering” entering the race again.

The former finance secretary faced backlash during her campaign last year after admitting she would have voted against gay marriage in Scotland when it was made legal a decade ago.

The Free Church of Scotland member also told Sky News that having children out of marriage is “wrong” and something she would “seek to avoid”.

However, the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch stressed that “in a free society you can do what you want”.

Ms Forbes had argued that “continuity won’t cut it”.

After losing to Mr Yousaf by 48% to 52%, she said: “If we are to continue to win elections, we need to continue to listen and maintain trust.”

Ms Forbes turned down the role of rural affairs minister, which at the time was seen as a demotion.

Although her views on social issues remain unpopular with some of her MSP colleagues, she was one of the few SNP ministers who did not delete her WhatsApp messages during the COVID pandemic.

Ms Forbes would face resistance from the Scottish Greens, who have previously ruled out working with her.

SNP colleague Fergus Ewing is backing Ms Forbes, saying she is “head and shoulders” above any other potential candidate.


Scotland's Deputy First Minister Shona Robison arrives for First Minster's Questions (FMQ's) at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Picture date: Thursday March 28, 2024.
Shona Robison. Pic: PA

Shona Robison could fancy her chances as Scotland’s leader following her stint as deputy first minister under Mr Yousaf.

Ms Robison, the finance secretary, has been the MSP for Dundee City East since 2003 and is a close friend of former first minister Ms Sturgeon.

She has previously held the post of health secretary, and as cabinet secretary for social justice, housing and local government was behind Holyrood’s efforts to pass the controversial Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Following the breakdown of the Bute House Agreement, Ms Robison may face a challenge to hold onto her position if the SNP wish to replace those at the top of the chain in an effort to start afresh.


File photo dated 15/10/23 of SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, who said the SNP will be "Scotland's voice" after the upcoming general election. Speaking ahead of the SNP's so-called campaign council in Perth on Saturday, Mr Flynn took aim at both the Conservatives and Labour, claiming "Scotland's values have never been further removed from Westminster". Issue date: Friday March 15, 2024.
Stephen Flynn. Pic: PA

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn is backing Mr Swinney.

He said: “These are, of course, serious times and serious times demand serious politics and serious politicians, and they don’t get much more serious, they don’t get much better than John Swinney.

“I therefore sincerely hope that he can be convinced to run in this race and encouragement from the likes of myself can make that happen.”

He added: “John Swinney is the cool, calm head the public deserve and I hope he’s the cool, calm head that the public get, and it’s for John now to decide whether that’s the case.”

Mr Flynn replaced Mr Blackford as the SNP’s Westminster leader in December 2022.

The Aberdeen South MP was touted as a potential future party leader by Joanna Cherry MP.

Ms Cherry praised his leadership, noting he was “tolerant” of opposing views and committed to addressing division within the SNP.

As he is not an MSP, that could block any potential chances of becoming first minister at Holyrood.

Given that, Mr Flynn will be worth keeping an eye on at the next Scottish parliament election. If he announces plans to run as an MSP, that could be part of a move towards Scotland’s top job.


EMBARGOED TO 0001 MONDAY APRIL 1 File photo dated 14/02/24 of Health Secretary Neil Gray who has hailed it a "significant day" as legislation on health and care staffing levels is set to come into effect from April 1, five years after the law was passed in Holyrood. The Health and Care (Staffing) Act was passed in the Scottish Parliament in 2019, but its implementation was delayed - in part due to the coronavirus pandemic. Issue date: Monday April 1, 2024.
Neil Gray. Pic: PA

Sky News understands former journalist Neil Gray does not intend to run in the leadership race and intends to back Mr Swinney if he declares.

Mr Gray was promoted to Holyrood’s health secretary in February after Michael Matheson resigned following a scandal involving an £11,000 iPad data roaming bill.

Mr Gray, the MSP for Airdrie and Shotts, previously served as an MP between 2015 and 2021 before making the switch from Westminster to Holyrood.

Mr Gray, who served as Mr Yousaf’s campaign manager in the SNP leadership contest, was previously the cabinet secretary for wellbeing economy, fair work and energy, and before that the minister for culture, Europe and International Development.


Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth during a visit to Claypotts Castle Primary School in Dundee to launch the next chapter of the Reading Schools programme and look ahead to the opening of Read Write Count with the First Minister in the autumn. Picture date: Thursday August 31, 2023.
Jenny Gilruth. Pic: PA

Jenny Gilruth, Holyrood’s education secretary, has announced she is backing Mr Swinney.

Posting on X, she said: “John Swinney is the best choice to be Scotland’s first minister and the SNP leader. I will be strongly supporting him if, as I hope, he chooses to run.”

Ms Gilruth is a former modern studies teacher and is married to ex-Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale.

The SNP MSP for Mid Fife and Glenrothes was a junior minister in Nicola Sturgeon’s government.

She was promoted from transport secretary to cabinet secretary for education and skills after Mr Yousaf took charge in March 2023.

Ms Gilruth is seen to be ambitious but was recently criticised by Scotland’s largest teaching union for failing to read its damning report on violence in Aberdeen schools.

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Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing, Economy, Net Zero and Energy Mairi McAllan ahead of making a statement announcing a new package of climate action measures which she says we will deliver with partners to support Scotland's "just transition to net zero" at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood. The Scottish Government is ditching a climate change target committing it to reducing emissions by 75% by 2030, the country's Net Zero Secretary confirmed. Picture date: Thursday April 18, 2024.
Mairi McAllan. Pic: PA

Mairi McAllan is a rising star within the SNP.

The MSP for Clydesdale was a special adviser to Ms Sturgeon and is now the wellbeing economy, net zero and energy secretary.

She faced a storm of criticism earlier this month after announcing the scrapping of the Scottish government’s key climate change target.

At the age of 31, Ms McAllan would become the youngest first minister.

As she is expecting her first child, with maternity leave expected to kick in during the summer until March 2025, it seems unlikely she will run for the top job.