Voting has officially begun in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon

The polls opened at noon today for tens of thousands of SNP supporters, tasked with choosing their party’s new leader and the next First Minister of Scotland. Members will have two weeks to cast their vote, with the ballot closing on 27 March. 

The bitter contest showed no sign of cooling over the weekend after Kate Forbes lashed out at John Swinney, the outgoing Scottish Deputy First Minister for publicly backing her rival Humza Yousaf. Forbes’ team branded it a “cynical 11th hour intervention” from a “panicking” SNP hierarchy. 

While a number of polls have put Forbes, the socially conservative finance secretary, ahead with the Scottish public, Yousaf – Scotland’s health secretary and so-called “continuity candidate” – appears to narrowly be the favourite among party members and has won the backing from many senior SNP figures. 

Ultimately, it is SNP voters who will decide on the candidates’ fate – though it’s worth remembering that the single transferable voting system does mean that second preferences could be crucial in determining who ultimately prevails. 

Some voters will be holding off on their decision to see how each of the three candidate fare in tonight’s TV debate. 

In the third televised showdown of the contest, Yousaf, Forbes and Regan will be grilled by Sky News political editor, Beth Rigby, at 7pm .

Rigby may well choose to bring up the explosive intervention made by Scotland’s former first minister Alex Salmond earlier this month. Speaking exclusively to Sky News, Salmond claimed that Yousaf had skipped a historic 2014 vote on gay marriage due to pressure from religious groups – something the health secretary himself has denied doing. 

For some SNP faithfuls, an end to the leadership contest cannot come soon enough. They fear that bitter clashes between candidates – which has even seen Forbes accuse Yousaf of being unfit to govern – are damaging the party’s reputation. 

Theie fears may well be founded. Indeed, a new poll carried out over the weekend illustrates the scale of the challenge facing Nicola Sturgeon’s replacement.

Support for Scottish independence has slumped to just 39 per cent, according to a survey conducted by YouGov for Sky News, while 47 per cent os Socts polled wanted to stick in the Union. 

This is even gloomier than last week’s Redfield and Wilton Strategies poll, which found support for independence had fallen 7 points in the past three months to 42%. 

Today, Yousaf pledged to shift the SNP’s push for Scottish independence into ‘fifth gear’ if he is elected as party leader. 

Some change of tack is clearly needed. Though is Yousaf up to the job? 

Even his so-called supporters don’t inspire confidence. Indeed, Musician Pat Kane’s amused Yousaf’s critics when he announced he would be backing the health secretary because he is “no more ‘out of his depth’ than any of his opponents.” A glowing endorsement. 


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