As a Unionist I should be cheering on Humza Yousaf, who would doom the Scottish independence cause, so dire is his record in office to date.

But from the safe distance of London, I find myself oddly encouraged by the first poll of the campaign to lead the SNP, which puts the vilified finance secretary, Kate Forbes, ahead of her main rival.

Though some 31 per cent of the party’s supporters have yet to make up their minds, those who have prefer Forbes (28 per cent) to Yousaf (20 per cent), with the third candidate, Ash Regan, barely getting a look in.

This is despite the current SNP leadership throwing their collective weight behind Yousaf, with clear swipes at Forbes from Nicola Sturgeon, who said the values of a First Minister “matter” in a “socially progressive country”, and from deputy leader John Swinney, who urged the party to consider whether it was appropriate for someone with Forbes’ views to lead Scotland.

(Though given Yousaf’s exposure on Friday as a hypocrite for ducking the vote on gay marriage “under pressure from the mosque”, maybe the Nat top brass will be more circumspect about his suitability too.)

It is early days and this is just one poll – conducted by the BIG Partnership, a communications agency – but it is telling that only five per cent of those questioned considered the faith or personal beliefs of whoever is the new party leader to be important.

It would seem that the fierce debate over whether a devout Christian like Forbes, a member of Scotland’s hyper traditional Free Church, is fit for the biggest job in Scottish politics is raging away from the ordinary voter.

The poll also found that SNP supporters were more concerned about the cost-of-living crisis, health, education and other public services. Not only did the gender issues championed by the Sturgeon regime take a back seat in priorities, but so did independence.

The poll was among SNP supporters, not the members who will choose the next leader and who are estimated to number 100,000.

But it suggests a cavernous gap exists between Sturgeon’s radical social agenda and the thinking among the grassroots – that is, the people who vote for the SNP, not the bellicose activists.

This doesn’t mean they all agree with Forbes on gay marriage, abortion and sex outside marriage – she is surely out of touch with most Scots across the generations on some, if not all, of her and her church’s tenets.

Are we beginning to see, though, how far Nationalist rulers of the current era have misrepresented their own constituency, which is a far broader church than they would care to admit, as broad as the rest of the Scottish electorate and not dissimilar, apart from on the constitutional question, in its outlook?

It has long been the case that the SNP is a deeply divided movement, not only over the present cultural dogma, but over personalities – with bitter feuding between the Sturgeon and Alex Salmond camps – and, at its core, over how to achieve the break-up of the UK.

But the party faithful have been cowed into toeing the line, dissenters punished (as in the case of the SNP MP Joanna Cherry who has consistently opposed the party on gender recognition reform), and the Sturgeon orthodoxy has prevailed.

With her gone, however, other voices may come to be heard, as the many Nationalists disillusioned with the direction of travel under Sturgeon find the courage to reassert themselves.

Forbes – who, don’t forget, has been very much a part of the administration, in ministerial roles for nearly five years – has provoked the party’s greatest yet bout of navel-gazing.

Whether this was deliberate or a reflection of her political immaturity, it can only be good for the SNP, which itself needs to grow up and allow people to disagree with each other, as they do in normal political parties.

While Forbes is grabbing the headlines, her colleague in the north-east, Fergus Ewing, is also sparking an internal row, over the less sexy but no less pressing matter of the dualling of the A9.

Nationalist politicians in A9 country have had to contend with voter fury over Sturgeon’s broken promise to upgrade treacherous stretches of the Inverness to Perth road by 2025, a betrayal attributed to her allegiance to the anti-progress Scottish Greens (but blamed by the SNP’s transport minister on the war in Ukraine!).

Ewing had had enough: “For the first time in 23 years as MSP, and nearly 50 years in the party, I voted against my own party on an issue other than one of conscience,” he said.

Breaking ranks to defend local interests is healthy in any party (and in any democracy) but rare in the SNP. It has paid a price for its insistence on uniformity and aversion to scrutiny, damaging Scotland in the process.

Vicious as the leadership campaign has been so far, the departure of Sturgeon could herald in a long-overdue reboot of Nationalist politics, whereby differences can be aired and tolerance of all is the new creed.

Write to us with your comments to be considered for publication at