As the SNP leadership campaign enters its second week, Humza Yousaf has built momentum. In some ways he is an unlikely front runner.
Though collegiate, likeable and polished in front of the cameras (as we saw from last night’s live-streamed leadership debate) he’s probably not anyone’s ideal candidate, but he’s shown he can withstand the aggressive media scrutiny that comes with high office. His experiences guiding controversial legislation through parliament and handling the challenging health portfolio have not left his reputation entirely unscathed, but he’s a known quantity.
Should he win, an early test of his leadership will be his willingness to recalibrate relationships across Scotland’s civic and business communities. Yet, by billing himself as a ‘continuity’ candidate, Humza may be underestimating the appetite among ordinary SNP members for a fresh approach.
Despite a bruising first week, Kate Forbes is, perhaps surprisingly, still very much in the race. She now urgently needs to shift the focus of the campaign onto issues of substance where her strategic nous and command of policy can come to the fore. Kate’s great strengths as an articulate, measured communicator with an easy ability to relate to those as yet unpersuaded by the independence proposition could yet see her triumph.
Many SNP members who do not share Forbes’s faith or the social views derived from it nevertheless respect her integrity and understand that commitments to pluralism and diversity in Scottish public life must also include religious freedom if they are to be meaningful.
Ash Regan does not have time on her side. As a Scottish Government minister, she was seen by colleagues and external stakeholders as engaged and competent. By resigning over the GRR Bill, she has also shown herself to be both principled and more in touch with public opinion than many insiders would like to admit. She is also the candidate putting independence at the heart of her appeal to the SNP membership.
A longer campaign would give her more opportunity to raise her profile and hone her message. Early tests in front of the camera, in TV interviews and during last night’s hustings, have shown she lacks some of the media experience of her two rivals. However, by stepping into the contest as a wildcard, she has brought dynamism to the debate and put down a marker that she means business.
Eilidh Whiteford was MP for Banff and Buchan from 2010-2017 serving as a frontbench spokesperson on International Development, Agriculture and Fisheries and latterly on Social Justice and Welfare. She is now a Senior Adviser at True North.