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Humza Yousaf’s Resignation – What Happens Next?

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If a week is a long time in politics, the last 10 days has been an eternity for Humza Yousaf.

Last Saturday, whilst taking part in a pro-independence march, Humza Yousaf reiterated his support for his power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Green Party, saying “I really value the Bute House agreement. We’ve achieved a lot in government, and I want to keep achieving a lot with the Green Party.”

Just days later, Yousaf very publicly ended his much-valued Bute House Agreement, saying that it had “served its purpose”, leaving him to lead a minority SNP government for the first time since 2011. 

The next day, facing two motions of no confidence in him without the guaranteed support of his former Green partners, the First Minister repeatedly insisted that he would not resign his position.

And now, he has resigned, paving the way for a second SNP leadership contest in just over a year – and the third SNP First Minister in four years. Yousaf confirmed he would stay in his role until a new leader is elected by his party’s membership.

Now, businesses, voters and parliamentarians alike will be asking, what on earth comes next?

Having confirmed he will stay in post until a new leader is elected means that a snap Holyrood election looks less likely – but by no means impossible. This time last year – when the role was far less of a poison chalice than it is now – only three SNP MSPs put themselves forward for the job. At the time, Yousaf proudly pitched himself as the “continuity candidate” – a strategy only a candidate who hasn’t picked up a Scottish newspaper over the last year is likely to repeat. With only one of his two opponents in last year’s contest still holding SNP membership, speculation has begun as to who else will throw their hat into the ring from the remaining parliamentary group.

There are three most likely outcomes in terms of what will come next. The first is that a “safe pair of hands” candidate quickly emerges to take over the reins, uncontested, and sees the SNP through to the 2026 Holyrood election. That safe pair of hands is widely seen to belong to veteran SNP MSP John Swinney, who has previously served as SNP leader and Deputy First Minister and who – political views aside – is largely respected across the chamber. It is not unheard of for former SNP leaders to return to the role and go on to further electoral success – just ask Alex Salmond.

The second and third scenarios are that Swinney bows out – citing something along the lines of allowing the next generation of SNP leadership to carry the baton – and we have a far more traditional leadership contest.

Scenario two involves Kate Forbes, the socially conservative former Finance Secretary, who has made clear in recent weeks that it would be her intention to stand again. Having secured a prediction defying 47% of the votes when standing against Yousaf, the chances of her being on the ballot, and indeed winning it, are high. This means, her opponent this time will not be seen as the “continuity candidate” but rather the “not-Kate-Forbes candidate”. During last year’s contest, much attention was given to Forbes’ views on key issues such as equal marriage and wider LGBT rights. She completely mishandled this last time and lost support from her MSP colleagues over this. She can’t now unsay what she has said and her opponent(s) will seek to create similar dividing lines this time.

Scenario three also involves Kate Forbes, in an ‘anyone but Kate Forbes’ ticket. Among those most likely to put themselves forward as the ‘Stop Kate’ candidate is Health Secretary Neil Gray and Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth. Both of whom have been trusted confidantes to Yousaf over the past year. Both of whom sit comfortably on the centre-left, socially progressive wing of the SNP. And both of whom should, in theory, be able to garner similar levels of membership support that Yousaf had this time last year. However, a contest with both Gray and Gilruth running – or indeed a contest where more than one candidate from this wing of the SNP – will only secure Forbes’ victory. Discussions have already begun internally about who has the best chance of winning and we might expect to see a single name emerge over the coming days.

Regardless of who the SNP membership elects as its leader, a simple majority vote is needed of Holyrood’s 129 MSPs to confirm that individual as First Minister. If the candidate for FM is unable to gain this majority, then a Scottish election would likely be called. The long and short of it is that if Kate Forbes re-stands and wins the SNP contest, there is a distinct possibility that she won’t enjoy the enthusiastic support of all the SNP’s MSPs. Their fellow nationalists in the Scottish Greens are likely to vote against her elevation to the top job and therefore she may not be able to command the election-stopping majority support in the parliament. If the ‘Stop Kate’ candidate manages to get over the SNP line with the party membership, it is far more likely that they will be able to gain the support of the Green’s to confirm them as First Minister. It’s important to remember that the Green’s recent beef was largely with Humza Yousaf and the decisions he took as FM, not with the wider SNP.

Regardless of whether a Holyrood election takes place sooner than planned, or goes ahead as expected in May 2026, what is clear is that the Scottish political landscape is changing in a way that we haven’t seen for almost two decades. Scottish-based businesses should prepare themselves for the possibility of operating outside of the nationalist prism of successive SNP governments. 

If you would like to talk to a member of the Arden team in Scotland about this ever-changing landscape, get in touch with our expert team.

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