The battle to succeed Nicola Sturgeon intensified today with Kate Forbes cutting short her maternity leave to throw her hat into the ring.
The Scottish finance secretary – regarded by many as the front-runner – swiped at the outgoing leader as she said the SNP needs ‘wider’ appeal and someone who is ‘fresh-faced’.
In a video posted on social media featuring footage of the stunning Scottish landscape, a tartan-clad Ms Forbes nodded to the apparently stalling separatist campaign north of the border.
Warning that the nationalists risked being ‘thwarted on the road to self-determination’, she said she had the ‘vision, experience and competence to inspire voters across Scotland’.
‘We urgently need to unleash the full talent of the SNP, the wider Yes movement and the country at large,’ she said.
Ms Forbes has been hotly tipped despite concerns that her ties to an evangelical church opposed to gay marriage and abortion could be damaging.
Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson confirmed this morning that he will not stand for the party’s top job.
Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes swiped at the need to ‘widen’ the SNP’s appeal as she confirmed she is a candidate in a slick video
Kate Forbes (left) is expected to make an announcement on her intentions following the dramatic departure of Nicola Sturgeon (right) last week
Ms Sturgeon dropped the bombshell that she is quitting last week, after a torrid spell where the SNP slid into chaos over its abortive bid to loosen gender identity rules and dwindling support for independence.
Appearing in the video against the backdrop of the Scottish landscape and with a tartan scarf draped around her neck, Ms Forbes said: ‘Friends in the SNP, our nation and our movement are at a major crossroads. The choices that we make in the next few weeks will have a profound impact on our future and on our children’s future.
‘I can’t sit back and watch our nation thwarted on the road to self-determination. Our small independent neighbours enjoy wealthier, fairer and greener societies and so should we.
‘We urgently need to unleash the full talent of the SNP, the wider Yes movement and the country at large.
Who is SNP leadership contender Kate Forbes?
Kate Forbes is a leading member of Ms Sturgeon’s administration who is being tipped as the favourite to replace her.
She became the Scottish government’s finance secretary in February 2020, the first woman to hold the post.
The 32-year-old went on maternity leave last July – the first ever serving Scottish Cabinet secretary to do so – and gave birth to her daughter Naomi in August.
Previously it was thought Ms Forbes did not harbour leadership ambitions, although she has been touted as a future SNP leader since entering the Scottish Parliament as MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch in 2016.
The daughter of missionaries, Ms Forbes spent much of her childhood in India.
She is a member of the Free Church of Scotland, sometimes known as the ‘Wee Frees’, which is opposed to gay marriage and believes there are few circumstances in which abortion is justified.
Ms Forbes has previously said she has been ‘guilty’ of ‘tiptoeing around’ her Christian faith in interviews.
Ms Sturgeon’s government was accused of rushing through its controversial gender identity reforms before Christmas, while Ms Forbes remained on maternity leave, in order to prevent a potential revolt by the 32 year old.
‘We need to choose strong, competent leadership to deliver independence, the leadership that I can offer.
‘I believe we need someone who can unite our party and our movement. I’m a unifier, I’ll reach out and listen so that every member feels valued and able to contribute.
‘That’s also important if we’re to persuade others of the merits of independence. But right now we also need somebody with a grip on our economy and our finances.
‘In the throes of a cost-of-living crisis and the need to plan for independence, my years managing Scotland’s budget and economy have given me the experience that we need to do just that.
‘More than anything we need a leader who is bold, brave and energised, fresh faced and ready for new challenges.
‘Somebody who inspires your confidence as an SNP member and who inspires the confidence of the people of Scotland to vote for a better future
‘I am that leader and I want to lead our party into better days with integrity and commitment for the sake of your children and my children.’
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and former community safety minister Ash Regan clashed on three major policy issues yesterday – independence, gender reform and road-building – as they confirmed their decision to enter the contest.
Mr Yousaf also appeared to be winning support from many of Ms Sturgeon’s key allies, while a briefing campaign was launched against Ms Forbes.
There are claims the Scottish Greens could pull out of their current power-sharing agreement at Holyrood if Ms Forbes takes over.
The 32-year-old is a member of the Free Church of Scotland, sometimes known as the ‘Wee Frees’, which is opposed to gay marriage and believes there are few circumstances in which abortion is justified.
SNP deputy leader Keith Brown, Environment Minister Mairi McAllan and Culture Minister Neil Gray all yesterday confirmed that they would not stand.
As the quarrelling escalated, former health secretary Jeane Freeman urged those briefing against each other to stop fighting or risk losing support.
Business Minister Ivan McKee said an announcement from the ‘hugely talented’ Ms Forbes could be expected later.
He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: ‘Kate has some big decisions to make, of course this happened while she was on maternity leave, she was not planning to come back until the beginning of April and as we all know the announcements of last week were a surprise to everyone.
‘So Kate has had to assess her position, understand what can be done, but my understanding is that she has considered that and will be making an announcement later today and we shall see what she’s got to say.’
Mr McKee said he would be backing Ms Forbes if she decides to run.
He said: ‘I think Kate is a hugely talented individual, I’ve had the pleasure of working with her over the past seven years and seen first-hand what she is able to deliver, her focus on the things that are important to Scotland and her ability to engage with people on a very real and authentic level and persuade them of her case.
Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf is running for the SNP’s top job
‘And I think those talents, to be able to deliver excellent public services, a strong economy, a green economy for Scotland and to be able to persuade people of the case for the SNP and for independence, are exactly the assets we need in a leader.’
Ms Forbes has long been seen as a potential successor to the First Minister.
She was thrust into the limelight by having to step in and deliver the Scottish budget at the 11th hour in 2020 after her predecessor Derek Mackay resigned in disgrace.
Candidates have until Friday to secure 100 nominations from at least 20 local branches to secure their place on the ballot, with the new SNP leader being announced on March 27.