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Scotland’s finance secretary Kate Forbes to stand in SNP leadership election

Kate Forbes, Scotland’s finance and economy secretary, on Monday announced that she would run to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the Scottish National party and first minister.

Forbes, who has been on maternity leave since last summer, is the bookmakers’ favourite to replace Sturgeon, who announced her resignation on Wednesday last week.

Her chances were boosted on Monday when Angus Robertson, cabinet secretary for the constitution and another SNP heavyweight, ruled himself out of the contest, although Forbes will be challenged by others including Humza Yousaf, the health secretary.

In a statement, Forbes said she had the “vision, experience and competence to inspire voters across Scotland” and that she was a “unifier”.

“I can’t sit back and watch our nation thwarted on the road to self-determination,” she added in a campaign video.

Robertson, a former leader of the SNP group at Westminster, had been seen as one of the leading potential candidates to succeed Sturgeon. But in a statement, he said: “As the father of two very young children, the time is not right for me and my family to take on such a huge commitment.”

Yousaf and Ash Regan, former community safety minister, have already announced that they will run.

Launching his bid in Glasgow on Monday, Yousaf heaped praise on Sturgeon and cast himself as a continuity candidate, saying her “commitment to social justice is a legacy I hope to continue”.

He also reiterated his support for abortion rights and controversial legislation intended to make it easier for people to gain official recognition for changes of gender. A key priority for Sturgeon, it was last month vetoed by Rishi Sunak, the UK prime minister.

“I have lived my entire life in Scotland as a minority, often having to fight for my rights. I want there to be no doubt in anyone’s mind that I will fight to protect all of our rights,” said Yousaf, who, if elected, would become Scotland’s first leader from a minority ethnic background.

Some within the SNP have questioned whether Forbes’s membership of the Free Church of Scotland — a Christian church that holds traditional views on social issues — could imperil her ability to lead a party that under Sturgeon took an increasingly liberal stance.

In 2019, Forbes signed an open letter alongside Regan — who last year resigned from the government to vote against the gender recognition reform bill — and other SNP colleagues that urged caution on making it easier for people to change gender.

“Changing the definition of male and female” was “a matter of profound significance”, the letter said.

Meanwhile, at a prayer breakfast in 2018, Forbes said the treatment of the “unborn” was a “measure of true progress”.

In an Ipsos poll carried out the day after Sturgeon announced she would quit, 31 per cent of respondents said Forbes would do a good job as first minister, compared with 18 per cent who said she would be a bad leader. One-third of voters said they did not know.

Meanwhile, 20 per cent of respondents said Yousaf would do a good job, behind Robertson on 24 per cent.

SNP members will vote to elect their new leader between March 13 and March 27.

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