The SNP leadership race is still an uncertain picture after the first airstrikes

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Good morning. Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan faced off last night in Cumbernauld in a competition to replace Nicola Sturgeon. Some thoughts on the shape of the SNP Leaderboard Contest in today’s note.

Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb and please send your gossip, thoughts and feedback to

First fists

The SNP leadership election kicked off in earnest with the first TV raids last night (live replay here). I’m not going to speculate on who “won” because the recipients of these things are the members of the SNP who have the cards, and their views are rather different from mine.

My general assumption for this leadership election is that Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf will garner the majority votes of the SNP’s socially liberal, pro-Remain majority (of which a large proportion of MPs joined the SNP in 2014 or 2016).

Meanwhile, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes will win the majority of votes from the SNP senior guard. This is based on what we can say we “know” about the SNP’s membership: most are in a very different place than Forbes on social issues, but a decent portion of the party’s activist base is not.

But there’s an awful lot that I know I don’t know. Below are three questions I’m still unsure about:

How big of a deal is it that Ash Regan has the most radical take on independence?

Regan’s resignation from government over Scotland’s proposed gender recognition reforms meant she started at a disadvantage. This adds to the belief that Yousaf is the preferred candidate of the outgoing party leadership. However, Regan has one very important card to play.

She is the candidate with the most radical proposal for Scottish independence: if the parties supporting Scottish independence win 51 per cent of the vote at the next Westminster or Holyrood election, the Scottish Government should start negotiating immediately trigger independence. While there are many minor flaws in this strategy, perhaps there is enough appetite for it among the rank and file for it to win an unexpected victory.

There’s certainly an audience for it among SNP members, but in the absence of decent polls, I don’t know how large it is.

How much attention do members in general actually give to this contest?

SNP membership is incredibly large by modern terms. With around 100,000 SNP members per capita, the party is one of the largest in Europe. I don’t know if this reflects Scotland’s greater politicization and that these members are just as committed as their counterparts in England and Wales, or if it reflects the SNP’s success in turning the party’s fairly casual supporters into members.

The more free and non-aligned a party’s membership, the more likely it is to vote with the Scottish public at large. Kate Forbes is now Scotland’s preferred first minister, according to polls.

What does it matter that Humza Yousaf is apparently the best choice of the party leadership?

In many ways, party magnates and magnates have pointed out that Humza Yousaf is the preferred choice of many SNP power brokers. I have a feeling that party members are fiercely loyal to their leaders and that overt and covert steering from various big fish will make a big difference.

But that’s all just an impression: the members I talk to can be wildly unrepresentative. The activist base may be in a completely different place than the dues-paying members.

While everything we know about the contest still suggests Humza Yousaf’s contest is the loser, there’s a great deal we know we don’t know.

Now try this

I speak to Premier League architect David Dein tonight about football, business, his new book and of course Arsenal Football Club at Kings Place in London.

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