Next SNP Leader Odds: Yousaf Tipped Over Forbes After Sturgeon Resignation
Betting sites looking at the next SNP leadership candidates have plunged Hamza Yousaf’s odds to a record short price as the favourite to replace Nicola Sturgeon closes in on the job.
Scottish National Party members have until 27 March to cast their votes on who they want as their new leader – and de-facto First Minister of Scotland.
The three-way race between Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan has not been without controversy, and has already cost the job of the SNP’s chief executive Paul Murrell over relations regarding party membership figures.
The candidates have had to outline their aspirations for the party and for a future Scotland.
Much of the focus has been on independence and how they would each seek to deliver a second referendum on the subject. But as the campaigns have dragged on, all three have been quizzed over their other political viewpoints too.
This at one stage appeared to kibosh Forbes’ chance of standing for the leadership after she revealed she would vote against gay marriage - something that has been legal in Scotland since 2014.
It now looks like a shoot-out between Yousaf and Forbes, who are from different wings of the party.
What is also apparent is that no-one boasts the sparkle of Sturgeon, who transformed the SNP into an electoral success at the ballot box during her decade as leader.
But UK bookmakers are aware that the deadline is approaching, and they all appear to be backing Yousaf to claim the most votes.
SNP Leader Betting
Sturgeon has already confirmed she will not publicly back a successor, and wants instead to lead that decision to the party.
“I firmly believe that my successor will lead Scotland to independence,” she said. “I've been thinking about it with oscillating intensity. A couple of weeks ago it started to crystallise a bit more.”
But there are more issues than simply independence for a new leader to contend with. First of all is a battle of wills over trans rights that has caused fractions within the party.
On top of this, the state of the Scottish economy, education statistics and public health have come under scrutiny.
A new leader will need to show Scots their party - which rules as a majority at Holyrood and which has 45 of the available 59 Scottish seats in Westminster - can take the country in the right direction.
Scotland right now doesn’t appear interested in breaking from the UK and a court order recently ruled that any permission for a Scottish Independence referendum would have to come from Westminster, not Holyrood.
The test for a new party leader and First Minister is therefore not about security IndyRef II any time soon, but about competently managing the country.
Here are the three candidates for the role and how the bookies see them shaping up.
Health secretary Yousaf was the big benefactor in the SNP leadership markets on political betting sites when John Swinney and Angus Robertson confirmed they would not stand for the position.
His odds came in from 10/1 to 4/9 overnight, and he was pitched as the clear frontrunner to replace Sturgeon.
Yousaf’s odds have since endured a wobble, only to stabilise again. He floated out to 4/5 to be the next First Minister after a live TV grilling, but appears to be gathering party-wide support.
Bet365 now have Yousaf at 2/9 to win the leadership race, a price that carries an 81.8% probability.
Yousaf has positioned himself as the ‘fresh start’ choice, a leader who reflects a modern Scotland and who can make a new argument for independence.
“We have to grow support for independence,” he said at the Cumbernauld hustings.
“And it's so important that whoever is first minister, that whether you're lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, whatever, whoever you are, that you can look the first minister in the eye, and you can have confidence that they will not only protect your rights, that they will not only tolerate you, but that they will celebrate you and that they will advance your rights where they possibly can.”
It’s been a weird campaign for Kate Forbes. The Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP made headlines when announcing, just after her commitment to run for the leadership, that she was opposed to gay marriage laws in Scotland - even though she wouldn’t seek to overturn them.
This revealed a fresh split in the SNP between socially liberal and conservative members of the party.
The admission also saw Forbes’ odds expand from 3/1 to 5/1 at William Hill as the public took stock of her opinons.
The expectation was that she’d ruined her chances of winning the contest due to her conservative social views in a party that pitches itself as socially liberal. But her odds have since come in again.
Forbes at one point was Evens to secure the leadership, before her price expanded again to settle at 3/1.
Bettors were quick to wager on the finance secretary but then withdrew their support when her price dropped too low.
Forbes polls better than Yousaf and Regan across the general public in Scotland.
However, she doesn’t have the backing of the party like Yousaf does and that’s likely to be what splits the two lead candidates.
Once a 4/1 shot for the leadership, Ash Regan has been somewhat sidelined by the Yousaf/Forbes battle that has tested the SNP’s unity.
Her odds have steadily widened, first to 11/1 and now to a new price of 25/1 with Ladbrokes.
Realistically Regan is out of this contest. She tried to grab the spotlight by calling for Scotland to hand its own currency “within months” of independence.
The MSP for Edinburgh Eastern has also called for members to be given the chance to “edit” their votes.
Regan has certainly ruffled some feathers. Nicola Sturgeon’s father, Robin, even tweeted that she “is not in this to win, but to destroy, aided and abetted by some in the party whose loyalties obviously lie elsewhere and by deranged others outwith the party who hope to gain from this”.
The bookies don’t think Regan will win the leadership battle, and evidently neither does the Sturgeon family.
How SNP Choose A Leader
Choosing a new SNP leader is a fairly uncommon occurrence. In 2014 when Sturgeon replaced Alex Salmond, no vote was held because she was the only candidate.
Fast-forward nine years and the SNP have had to dust down the rule book and figure out how to elect a new leader within the space of a few weeks.
Each of the three leadership candidates needed a minimum 100 nominations from members spanning at least 20 SNP branches across Scotland.
Yousaf, Regan and Forbes all went through the hustings process and are now in the final days of the campaign.
Every SNP member will get to select their preferred leader, on a one member, one vote basis. The voting window is open between March 13 and 27, after which a winner will be announced.
One of the biggest revelations to come out of the leadership contest is the decreasing popularity of the SNP.
In a stunning revelation, the party was forced to admit it has lost 30,000 members in just over a year.
While it was originally assumed more than 104,000 SNP members would be voting in the leadership contest, that figure actually stands at 72,000.
It means just 1.3% of Scotland’s population will have a say on who is the new First Minister.
Last autumn Conservative members representing 0.1% of the UK voted in Liz Truss as the country’s new prime minister.
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