Who could succeed Humza Yousaf as Scotland’s first minister?

With Humza Yousaf having announced he will stand down as First Minister of Scotland, the PA news agency looks at the likely contenders for the top job.

– John Swinney

The loyal, deputy first minister to Nicola Sturgeon has said he is “actively considering” standing to replace Mr Yousaf.

He said he has been “somewhat overwhelmed” by the number of party colleagues calling on him to do so, who include senior SNP figures such as Pete Wishart and former Westminster leader, Ian Blackford.

Mr Swinney has the benefit of significant experience, having been an MSP since the Scottish Parliament’s inception in 1999, serving North Tayside, and previously representing the same constituency at Westminster in 1997.

Mr Swinney previously led his party in Holyrood between 2000 and 2004 during the SNP’s time on the opposition benches.

He has held a raft of cabinet positions, including education and finance and resigned at the same time as Ms Sturgeon.

He ruled himself out of the 2023 leadership race, stating he had to put his young family first.

However, the SNP politician could take the reins to unite his party in a time of turmoil.

Kate Forbes
Kate Forbes ran against Humza Yousaf in the SNP leadership contest last year (Jane Barlow/PA)

– Kate Forbes

The Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP narrowly lost to Mr Yousaf in the fiery leadership contest to replace Ms Sturgeon just over a year ago.

And as finance secretary under Ms Sturgeon, Ms Forbes has been known to help her government through tough crises, stepping into the role and delivering a budget at short notice after her predecessor, Derek Mackay, resigned in disgrace in 2020.

A Free Church of Scotland member, Ms Forbes’ first run at the leadership was not smooth sailing as her stance on social issues was at odds with many within her own party, particularly her opposition to gender reform.

A key obstacle in her leadership, however, would be the Scottish Greens, who have previously ruled out working with her over her views so it is unlikely she would command the support to effectively rule.

In the last leadership contest, Ms Forbes did not have the backing of most of her own SNP MSPs but did win over a significant number of members, losing the closely-fought leadership election by 47.9% of the vote compared to Mr Yousaf’s 52.1%.

Climate change
Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing, Economy, Net Zero and Energy Mairi McAllan (Andrew Milligan/PA)

– Mairi McAllan

The Clydesdale MSP has been tipped as a future leader as she quickly moved up the ranks despite only being elected in 2021.

At the age of 31, Ms McAllan would become the youngest first minister, but her portfolio in Holyrood shows she is already capable of handling a significant brief.

The party’s rising star was given a ministerial post for environment, biodiversity and land reform in May 2021, shortly after being elected.

But, under Humza Yousaf, she quickly ascended to a cabinet post just two years later, taking on the Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition portfolio.

Her brief was widened further in February 2024 after Neil Gray was moved to Health Secretary. She became Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy Secretary.

Ms McAllan announced she was expecting her first child in February 2024, adding she planned to take maternity leave in the summer with a scheduled return for March 2025.

Neil Gray visit to Queen Elizabeth University Hospital
Scottish Health Secretary Neil Gray (Jane Barlow/PA)

– Neil Gray

The wealth of experience held by Neil Gray could make him a likely contender for leadership.

He is thought to be the closest ally of Mr Yousaf but may be able to unite Parliament.

He is a former MP and became an MSP in 2021 serving as a culture and international development minister before being promoted to Economy, Fair Work and Energy Secretary around a year later.

He stepped up to become Health Secretary following the resignation of Michael Matheson.

Humza Yousaf visit
Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth (Jane Barlow/PA)

– Jenny Gilruth

Former teacher Jenny Gilruth represents Mid Fife and Glenrothes and is the current Education Secretary.

Her brief is one of the toughest as she faces pressure to address the increasing issue of violence in schools.

She has also been a transport minister and Europe, migration and international development minister.