A new leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) will be announced on Monday afternoon, with the immediate task of deciding the future of its coalition government with the Scottish Greens.
The ballot on the contest to replace Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader closes at noon. It is expected that the winner of the fractious six week contest between front-runner and health secretary Humza Yousaf, finance secretary Kate Forbes, and former community affairs minister Ash Regan, will be announced at about 2pm at Murrayfield stadium in Edinburgh.
Whoever is appointed as the new SNP leader is expected to be confirmed as Scotland’s next first minister on Tuesday. The party, which has 64 members of the devolved Scottish parliament (MSPs), governs in a formal coalition with the Greens, which has 8 MSPs.
Over the weekend the Greens warned that the government partnership it agreed with Ms Sturgeon contains “non negotiable” policies on equality and environmentalism. The party hinted it could walk away if it is not happy with the new leader chosen by the SNP’s 72,000 members. That would leave the SNP to run Scotland’s devolved administration with a parliamentary minority.
Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Scottish Greens co-leader, Lorna Slater, said the new SNP leader must accept the government partnership agreement “as a whole, for us to continue to work together”.
An issue that is seen as being central to determining whether the coalition of the SNP and Greens stays together is the new leader’s attitude to challenging the UK government in Westminster for blocking a Scottish decision to bring in gender self-identification for transgender people.
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Scotland’s parliament voted for gender self-ID last year, but earlier this year Westminster used a rare constitutional provision to block the new law from receiving royal assent, even though the issue is covered under devolved powers. The UK government claimed gender self-ID in Scotland could affect the rights of women and girls elsewhere in Britain. Ireland introduced similar laws seven years ago.
Ms Slater on Sunday highlighted that the pursuit of gender self-ID is part of Greens’ agreement to form a government with the SNP. She said she “couldn’t imagine any leader of a pro-independence party” accepting the blocking of a law by Westminster that was passed by a vote in Scotland.
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The gender self-ID issue damaged Ms Sturgeon’s credibility in the weeks before she quit in February after a rapist, Isla Bryson, came out as transgender and was initially sent to a women’s prison.
The issue has also sharply divided the three candidate to replace Ms Sturgeon. Mr Yousaf, who is seen as the candidate favoured by the SNP establishment to continue Ms Sturgeon’s socially liberal agenda, said he would as first minister challenge the UK government in the courts. However, he backed away from that stance slightly at a debate last Tuesday, when he hinted that he might not do this if the Scottish government’s top legal adviser said the case was not winnable.
His main challenger for the SNP crown, the socially conservative Ms Forbes, who is on maternity leave from her government post, said she would not have voted for gender self-ID and would not launch a legal challenge, but would instead focus on the economy and public services. The outsider in the race, Ms Regan, whose second transfers could help decide the winner, resigned from government last year in protest over gender self-ID.
Ms Forbes’s campaign almost imploded early in the race in a storm of criticism over her conservative views, which she believes were “weaponised” against her by supports of Mr Yousaf. She clawed her way back into the race and leads Mr Yousaf in polls of all Scottish voters. SNP insiders, however, believe he may have done just about enough to win the leadership ballot among SNP members, although they could not rule out a surprise victory by Ms Forbes.