• Humza Yousaf has resigned as leader of the SNP and will step down as First Minister. 
  • Yousaf will remain as First Minister until the conclusion of the SNP leadership contest. 
  • His tenure has faced critical challenges following his unexpected decision to end the Bute House Agreement last week and expel the Scottish Greens from the government coalition, resulting in a precarious political situation marked by planned votes of no confidence in his leadership and the Scottish Government.    

How did we get here?   

  • The decision to end the Bute House Agreement precipitated a motion of no confidence brought forward by the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, which received cross-party support from the opposition parties.  
  • The Greens also stated the First Minister had lost their confidence following their exit from the coalition, meaning Humza Yousaf would have to rely on the Alba Party’s sole MSP, former SNP leadership contender Ash Regan, to have any chance of surviving.  
  • Over the weekend, senior SNP figures ruled out any prospect of an alliance with Alba leaving the First Minister no option but to resign or face the ignominy of losing a confidence vote in the Scottish Parliament this week.       

What happens next?   

  • The resignation has triggered an SNP leadership contest. While no candidate has formally declared an intention to run, John Swinney has emerged as the clear frontrunner after a series of endorsements from senior figures in the party including Ian Blackford, Màiri McAllan, Stephen Flynn, Keith Brown, Jenny Gilruth and Neil Gray. The former Deputy First Minister said yesterday he was giving ‘a great deal of thought’ to a leadership bid but has confirmed he will not make any announcement on entering the race today.    
  • Kate Forbes, who was defeated by Humza Yousaf in the 2023 SNP leadership election, has confirmed she is considering a bid to enter the race. The former Finance Minister said she had a “groundswell of support” among members and is reportedly developing policy proposals for a potential candidacy. Ms Forbes, who is likely to face strong opposition once again from the left of the party due to her views on same-sex marriage and abortion, has so far received the backing of former ministers Fergus Ewing and Ivan McKee.     
  • Overnight IPSOS polling found Kate Forbes holds a six-point lead on who the public say would make the best First Minister, while 2021 SNP voters were more likely to prefer John Swinney by a margin of 9%. The public was split on the decision to end the Bute House Agreement, with 45% both in favour of and in opposition to the move.   
  • Nominations for the SNP leadership contest close on Monday 6 May at noon and if more than one candidate receives 100 nominations from at least 20 local party branches members will be balloted using a single transferable vote system.    
  • The 2023 SNP leadership contest was completed in 41 days (15 February – 27 March) with the ballot running from 13-27 March. If a similar timetable was followed, this would see a new leader confirmed by mid-June. 

What’s happening in Parliament?    

  • A Scottish Labour motion of no confidence in the Scottish Government was debated in Parliament on Wednesday. The motion, which was also supported by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, was defeated after it was opposed by the Scottish Greens, who argued it amounted to ‘parliamentary game playing.’    
  • The Scottish Conservatives have now withdrawn the motion of no confidence in the First Minister, clearing the way for Humza Yousaf to remain in power until a successor is chosen.        
  • It is unclear whether either candidate will be able to command the confidence of the Scottish Parliament, however, it is expected that John Swinney would receive support on a more informal basis from the Scottish Greens.    

What does this mean for organisations with an interest in Scottish Government policies? 

  • Clearly a lot of the political and media ‘oxygen’ is going to be taken up with the processes outlined above and speculation about what will happen at Holyrood afterwards. Indeed, it may be that very little is able to happen at Holyrood if there is no workable arrangement (such as either the style of coalition ended by Yousaf last week or a less formal ‘supply and confidence’ arrangement that the parliament has seen previously). 
  • So, organisations need to be agile in responding to circumstances. There will be times when there is little point trying to compete for political interest with the wider drama on how the country is going to be governed. 
  • However, there is still a need to keep the communications going. Constituency business will continue, as will some parliamentary activity. While the prospect of an early Holyrood election has diminished for the time being, there is going to be a Westminster election soon regardless.   
  • If John Swinney is elected as the new First Minister, it is more likely that he will adopt a continuity approach to government, without wholesale changes to personnel among his senior ministers. This is harder to predict if Kate Forbes is elected, however, and organisations should prepare for the possibility of a wide-ranging reshuffle and shake up of the ministerial pack.       

BIG’s Public Affairs team will provide updates about the campaign for a new SNP leader and First Minister throughout the coming days and beyond. For further information, please contact [email protected].  

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