Humza Yousaf just quit. Here’s who could replace him as Scotland’s leader.

Humza Yousaf’s resignation as Scotland’s first minister plunges the Scottish National Party into its second leadership election in two years.

Yousaf — who only took over from Nicola Sturgeon in 2023 — has been under mounting pressure after junking a power sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens.

That means the SNP now governs as a minority administration, struggling in the polls and reliant on opposition parties it has cheesed off. Oh, and there’s a Westminster general election breathing down its neck.

POLITICO runs through the likely contenders for one hell of a turnaround job.

John Swinney

An SNP veteran, Swinney is widely liked across its warring factions — and is being talked up as the only figure who could potentially unite the party as a caretaker leader at a difficult time. 

Speaking at a Resolution Foundation event Monday morning, Swinney said: “I will consider what the first minister says and reflect on that. I think it’s important that we hear very much what the first minister says later on today. And I may well have more to say at a later stage during the week.”

An SNP veteran, John Swinney is widely liked across its warring factions. | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

If he does take the job, Swinney would lead the SNP for a second time having run the party between 2000 and 2004, later becoming finance secretary under former first ministers Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. He served as Sturgeon’s deputy for her entire tenure in office between 2014 and 2023.

Kate Forbes

Forbes was narrowly beaten by Yousaf in last year’s leadership election, which was dominated by debate over her socially conservative positions on same-sex marriage, gender self-identification and more.

But Forbes retains many admirers across the party, and has hinted she would run for leader again. She held the post of finance secretary from 2020 before leaving government when Yousaf became leader — and offered her a demotion to stay in his cabinet. As a backbencher, Forbes called for the Bute House Agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens to be repealed last December.

Jenny Gilruth 

The current cabinet secretary for education and skills, Gilruth was elected to the Scottish parliament in 2016, serving as an aide to John Swinney and climbing the ranks as a culture and then transport minister. Gilruth has formed an effective cabinet alliance with three other senior ministers — Màiri McAllan, Shirley-Anne Somerville and Mairi Gougeon — who are all seen as close to Sturgeon. She backed Yousaf for leader last time round.

Her star is seen as on the rise, particularly within the left-leaning elements of the SNP’s membership.

Neil Gray 

Gray became health secretary earlier this year following the resignation of Michael Matheson over an £11,000 taxpayer-funded iPad bill (no, really.)

Neil Gray helped run Yousaf’s successful leadership campaign last year after deciding against running himself. | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) since 2021, Gray helped run Yousaf’s successful leadership campaign last year after deciding against running himself. His stock has risen after a spell as Yousaf’s wellbeing economy secretary, where he has been credited with repairing the SNP’s relationship with some business groups.

Hit by bad timing

The timing of Yousaf’s exit will work against SNP rising star Màiri McAllan, who is set to head off on maternity leave in the summer and won’t be due to return until March 2025. The timing also isn’t right for the party’s well-rated Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, who can’t become first minister as he sits in the U.K. parliament, not the devolved Scottish one. But his backing could prove crucial in the contest.


For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.