Analysis: The Debate for First Minister 

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On Tuesday night, Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf, and Ash Regan appeared on STV to answer questions facing Scotland as they race to become Nicola Sturgeon’s successor. But who won? Short answer, not the SNP.

“I am the only…” – said every five minutes by three people from the same party

On Tuesday night, Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf, and Ash Regan appeared on STV to answer questions facing Scotland as they race to become Nicola Sturgeon’s successor. But who won? Short answer, not the SNP. 

Talking a lot, but not saying anything

Ash Regan kicked off the debate, claiming that due to Westminster’s ability to ignore the SNP’s constant victory in Scotland as a mandate for an independence referendum, “our only legal option us to use the ballot box we do have access to”. Effectively, she recognised that Westminster has ignored any mandate that the SNP claims it has for a referendum, and says that with her as First Minister, she would just try harder to get Westminster to recognise a mandate. Her opinions of the Westminster government are surprisingly optimistic (on the verge of naivety) for an SNP candidate, claiming that any idea that Westminster would ignore a mandate for Scottish independence is “nonsense”. I think any other member of the SNP would probably tell you a different story, including the soon to be ex-Fist Minister. 

Regan claimed that the UK was “voluntary” and suggesting “putting a mechanism in place” that would effectively eradicate the need for a referendum at all, and that if she became First Minster and the SNP won the next election, Scotland would simply become independent, end of. 

Her priorities as First Minister include “delivering effective government” and “responding to the needs of the people in Scotland”. You’d hope this wouldn’t need to be specified but here we are. 

In complete honesty, her answers were riddled with empty, political cliches as it appears she attempted to just say anything that wouldn’t drive away voters, whilst simultaneously, engaged none. 

Regan dubbed both her opponents as “wishy-washy” and claimed that she was the only candidate with a “credible plan” for independence. This plan? “Get the best people in the room, I am going to get the best experts, and we will find the best plans that we can while making preparations to become independent”. Who are these people? Want defines “best”? What preparations? No one knows! According to the debate, not even Ash Regan knows. 

“Independence is normal, and it is inevitable”

The above quote is from Humza Yousaf, who claims that as First Minster he would “immediately restart the Yes campaign”, and in a jab at Westminster in general, branded Kier Starmer as a “paler imitation of the Tories”.

I write this on International Women’s Day, and for intersectional feminists, the question of how trans rights will fare under a new First Minister is an extremely pressing one, and Yousaf is the only candidate who endorses trans rights as a whole, and the Gender Recognition Act. He claimed as First Minister he would “build on our government’s radical and progressive agenda”. As well as this, intersectional feminism includes refugee women, asylum seeking women, and immigrant women, and credit where credit is due, Yousaf was unique in chastising the UK government for their recent inhumane decision to effectively criminalise seeking asylum, and deport anyone who comes to the UK illegally, whilst the closest to this we saw from other candidates was a slight nod of approval at these remarks. 

Yousaf’s most used phrase was definitely “I’m the only candidate here that…”, as he claimed to uniquely stand above his two opponents particularly in regards to his opinions of Westminster, as he aims to “stand up to Westminster’s Section 35 veto”. However, despite his consistent attempt to appear to be completely different to his fellow candidates, they all share the idea that the approach to independence is to build support for it. At least Forbes set out how she would do this, whilst both Regan and Yousaf simply claimed that independence would be achieved by the will of the Scottish people. 

As well as this, Yousaf took pride in the lack of NHS strikes in Scotland and his ability to negotiate a pay deal as Health Secretary, meaning overall, both intersectional, class conscious feminists, and possibly socialists as well, may be drawn to Humza Yousaf the most out of the three possible candidates. 

“Continuity won’t cut it”

Forbes claims to “offer a new start to Scotland”, pointing out issues other than independence such as tacking the cost of living crisis, reforming the NHS, building a green economy, and eradicating poverty. How she plans to eradicate poverty, she never actually says, other than numerous remarks about a “wellbeing economy”. 

In regards to her independence approach, she aims to “reach across the political divide”, and engage voters who initially opposed independence, as well as inspiring those who already support the Yes movement. In regards to this political divide, Humza Yousaf accused Forbes of having clouded judgement due to her opinions of the GRA (which it is important to note, Regan also voted against), and pointed out that many LGBT+ Yes voters had left her campaign due to clashes over Forbes and her religious beliefs. 

She also placed an emphasis on the economy, which as Finance Secretary could be expected, and claimed that the route to independence involved displaying how Scotland could be “fairer, wealthier, and greener” to those skeptical of the Yes campaign. In doing this, Forbes did appear to be more in touch with reality than her fellow candidates, as quite frankly, the Scottish working class is more concerned about feeding their families and heating their homes than a constitutional reform. When you’re choosing between heating and eating, independence is the least of your worries, whether anyone reading this believes that an independent Scotland would eradicate these issues or not. 

Forbes also emphasised that independence should be seen as a “means to an end” for the Scottish people, that can eradicate poverty and injustices. These all sound like lovely ideas but she never actually expanded on how a constitutional reform would cause an end to some of Scotland’s biggest challenges.

Forbes VS Yousaf

An exasperated Colin Mackay struggled to find any real answer as to how any of the candidates would effectively form an independent Scotland, or any questions for that matter. Overall, the race to Bute House isn’t looking good for Ash Regan, who might as well have been a random person who was sent on stage by accident with a lot of generic filler phrases. Although in saying that, none of us thought that Donald Trump or Boris Johnson would win their leadership contests, and whilst I’m by no means comparing them, stranger things have happened. But it appears that either Kate Forbes or Humza Yousaf will be occupying Bute House soon enough, with Forbes appearing to be the candidate for the older, less progressive SNP voter focused on independence, whilst it is likely that Humza Yousaf will claim the votes of younger SNP members concerned with issues such as LGBT+ rights, as the only candidate of the three to support the GRA.

Featured Image Credit: STV News

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2nd year politics and journalism student. Politics co-editor.

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