Decision after withdrawal: Who follows Sturgeon in Scotland?

Status: 03/27/2023 05:00 a.m

Today it will be announced who will succeed Scotland’s Prime Minister Sturgeon. The two most promising candidates could not be more different – especially in matters of faith.

By Christoph Prössl, ARD Studio London

Whoever takes the chair of the Scottish National Party (SNP) is a tough job. The party loses support in the polls, there is a bizarre finance and membership scandal and then finally there is the question of Scottish independence.

Leaving the United Kingdom has been the most important item on the SNP’s agenda for years. At the same time, the movement experienced significant setbacks: after the 2014 referendum, the Supreme Court in Great Britain prevented another, which was already scheduled for the autumn. The polls for independence have been hovering around 50 percent for years and remain ambiguous. The SNP leadership may have just gotten lost.

SNP suffers from a directional dispute

It is a difficult situation when the party members are asked to appoint a new chairman or chairmen. At the head of the party and the regional government is a woman who was leader and “First Minister” for almost a decade. That is the name of the post that is comparable to the office of a German prime minister.

Nicola Sturgeon shaped the SNP, led it to success, was a constant in UK politics. After her resignation, it became clear: there are cracks in the party, the question of independence has to be redefined and there is a dispute over direction that the successor has to overcome.

A practicing Muslim as a favorite

Humza Yousaf is considered a promising candidate. He is currently Minister for Health and has many years of government experience – including as Minister for Transport and Minister for Justice in Scotland.

Yousaf is a practicing Muslim, and repeatedly emphasizes in interviews that he supports same-sex marriage, i.e. liberal social policy. Like Sturgeon, the 37-year-old comes from Glasgow and is considered the outgoing prime minister’s preferred candidate. He would be the party leader of continuity.

Against him – with promising prospects – Kate Forbes. The finance minister is 32 years old and criticized the health minister Yousaf for a rather mixed record of his work. In the NHS health service, waiting times have increased and deficits have increased.

The competitor belongs to a free church

In recent weeks, Forbes has primarily been asked about family and social policy issues. Forbes belongs to the Free Church of Scotland. She opposes same-sex marriages, opposes abortion and criticizes premarital sex.

Personal views are one thing, politics another. Former SNP leader in the House of Commons in London, Ian Blackford, belongs to the same communion but voted in favor of an abortion bill and same-sex marriage in the House of Commons – drawing criticism from the community.

Issue of same-sex marriage

Not so with Forbes: In an interview, the politician said that she would not have voted for same-sex marriage if she had already been a member of parliament when the vote took place in the regional parliament. That’s why the party is discussing: Can Forbes become party leader and “First Minister”?

Forbes defended himself in this debate with the objection that a man of Jewish faith or a Muslim would not be asked these questions. Which is not true. Humza Yousaf said in an interview with LBC that he was in favor of same-sex marriage. He also announced that he would fast during Ramadan.

Question of Scottish independence remains open

The controversy also reflects the dispute over direction in the party. Sturgeon led the party from a conservative alternative to the Tories to a socially liberal party with a social democratic signature.

It is also completely open how the big goal of independence will continue. Sturgeon wanted to push through a second referendum, but the Supreme Court blocked the plans. Sturgeon promised to call the next general election a quasi-referendum, which many criticized. In addition, the poll numbers are still ambiguous. The SNP’s independence policy needs new arguments and new impetus. A tricky task for the new party leader.

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