When Nicola Sturgeon stood down as First Minister and SNP leader last year, MPs, MSPs and political observers alike were struck by the significance that the party would be embarking on its first leadership election in almost 20 years.

Now the party is facing its second leadership contest in just over 13 months - or perhaps a change of leader without a race.

In an article in The National yesterday former leadership candidate Kate Forbes called for the parliament to back Mr Yousaf in this week's confidence votes.

But perhaps signalling a new tilt at the leadership - or maybe the possibility of succeeding Mr Yousaf without a contest - she also called for the Greens to give her their backing.

READ MORE: SNP's Kate Forbes hopes Scottish Greens will 'embrace' her

As the Herald on Sunday revealed last week, some senior figures in the SNP think it is just a matter of time before Humza Yousaf steps down from his roles at the helm of government and the party.

"It's just a question now of when he goes, not if," one insider told us.

Last week's collapse of the power sharing arrangement with the Scottish Greens has increased the chances that Mr Yousaf may be out of power before long - potentially even next week should he lose no confidence motions brought by the Scottish Conservatives and by Labour.

Some in the SNP believe the one brought by the Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross - a motion of no confidence in the First Minister himself - is more of a threat than Labour's which is a no confidence motion in the whole government and less likely to suceed.

The Herald: Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes during the SNP's leadership contest last year. Photo PA.

Their thinking is parliamentary numbers would mean that even if the Scottish Greens voted out the whole government, Ash Regan - a leadership candidate in last year's SNP race, who defected to Alba - is unlikely to do so as she would be bringing down a pro independence government, triggering an early Holyrood election and putting herself out and party out of Holyrood. (Alba have yet to win any seats in Holyrood or Westminster at an election).

Where Ms Regan may stand on bringing down Mr Yousaf may be an entirely different matter though.

With Alex Salmond's Alba hugely critical of the SNP under Mr Yousaf - in particular over what they say as a lack of progress on independence - people are wondering why then would Ms Regan jump to safe him.

"If Alba can't use this opportunity to bring down Humza then they're pretty toothless," noted one observer.

The likelihood of Ms Regan backing Mr Yousaf in the Tory no confidence motion decreased further last night when the First Minister rejected Alba's demand for an electoral pact.

But even should the First Minister survive both of this weeks votes, with polls putting the SNP behind Labour, the party is facing a grim general election outcome this year - perhaps even as early as the summer - and there is a sense of a need for change at the top as they head towards a Holyrood election in 2026.

READ MORE: Analysis: Could Alex Salmond be welcomed back to the SNP fold?

The SNP's Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has ruled himself out of a new contest should Mr Yousaf resign. He said he believed the leader of the SNP should also be First Minister.

There has previously been speculation around whether Joanna Cherry - one of the other most prominent politicians in the party - would stand to be leader. However, like her colleague Mr Flynn, Ms Cherry is Westminster based and with a key role as chair of the Commons human rights committee may not have the inclination to do so.

It's possible that Mr Yousaf could well win next week's votes. Mr Flynn, who spoke to Mr Yousaf late on Thursday evening, said on Friday the First Minister will "come out fighting".

But the parliamentary arithmetic is on a knife edge and not on the face of it looking favourable to Mr Yousaf.

On Thursday afternoon, the Scottish Greens said they would support the no confidence motion and vote to oust Yousaf.

The Herald: Health Secretary Neil Gray.  

If every Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat MSP joins the Greens in voting against Mr Yousaf it would give 64 votes for the motion, to the SNP's 63.

The result would then depend on which way Ms Regan voted. If she voted to support Mr Yousaf the votes in favour of the motion and against would be tied at 64.

The Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone would support the side which kept the existing situation under parliamentary convention. In this case she would support the First Minister.

If perhaps through illness not every member of all the opposition parties will vote, Mr Yousaf could survive as First Minister even if Ms Regan does not support him.

The Herald: Will the former SNP MSP Ash Regan - now Alba MSP - save Mr Yousaf - or help bring him down?

One opposition MSP is currently absent from parliament on what is believed to be health grounds. However it is understood the party in question have 'fixed' this potential issue with the absent MSP being lined up to cast their vote by proxy or use the remote voting system from home.

But the support of Ms Regan is far from certain with the SNP wary of putting the Alba MSP in such a strong position of becoming the key decision maker over Mr Yousaf's future - but also because of the ill-will between the parties and personalities involved.

The First Minister may be regretting his words now when Ms Regan defected to Alba, saying she was "not great loss".

So what would happen if the First Minister loses the vote?

READ MORE: SNP look to Humza Yousaf succession after worst week

READ MORE: Ross Greer: Humza Yousaf panicked over Bute House Agreement

READ MORE: The canny political operator who is Scotland’s new health secretary

Under the rules he is not obliged to stand down, however he would face considerable pressure to do so - and accusations of not respecting the will of parliament if he clung on.

Should he decide to announce his resignation, he could do so with immediate effect or wait until the end of an SNP leadership election.

If his exit is immediate, Deputy First Minister Shona Robison would be in charge of the government. She is due to step in for Mr Yousaf in the summer when he is expecting to go on paternity leave keeping her existing title of Deputy First Minister.

The Herald: First Minister Humza Yousaf pictured todayFirst Minister Humza Yousaf at his Bute House press conference last Thursday when he announced the end of the Bute House Agreement.  Photo PA.

However, some in the party believe it is more likely that he remains as First Minister until his successor is elected - as Nicola Sturgeon did last Spring.

There is speculation that there may not be a contest.

With a general election looming, the SNP's support falling behind Labour in some polls and the ongoing police investigation, some think the party has enough to contend with without adding a leadership election too.

But if there is a new SNP contest should Mr Yousaf be forced out who would be the candidates?

While it is possible there could be a few contenders, there are only believed to be two serious potential runners if a race is held - Ms Forbes and Neil Gray.

The Herald: Scottish Greens leaders Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie speaking to the media in Holyrood last Thursdsay after First Minister Humza Yousaf ended the Bute House Agreement.  Photo Lesley Martin/PA.

Ms Forbes returned early from maternity leave to stand in last year's contest where she was narrowly defeated by Mr Yousaf in the second round of voting by 52% to 48%.

Writing in The National yesterday, she noted how the SNP had effectively governed as a minority from 2007 to 2011 by working with different parties to get their legislation through Holyrood - and that the party went on to win a majority in 2011.

Significantly, she appealed to the Scottish Greens to back her.

"Let us get away from the language of who is and who is not acceptable to work with. For example, well before and during the Bute House Agreement, Patrick Harvie and I worked together – that is no secret. The question therefore isn’t whether my world is big enough to embrace the Greens – it is. The question is whether their world is big enough to embrace me. I hope and believe it is."

Ms Forbes has considerable support and influence in the party - especially in the Highlands and in rural Scotland where the SNP will want to keep and increase its support ahead of the general election.

Supporters will point to her high personal poll ratings during last year's contest among the public and pollsters' suggestions that she can reach both SNP voters and those who have voted for opposition parties.

The Herald: First Minister Humza Yousaf MSP visits Meadowburn Care home in Pollok, Glasgow last year. Photo: Colin Mearns.

They also believe that her pitch at the 2023 race as someone who offered a break from the Nicola Sturgeon era would put her in a strong position given the unravelling of a considerable chunk of her legacy including the Bute House Agreement and the gender recognition reforms.

However, she may struggle to get the backing of some members on the socially liberal left of the party. Her personal opposition to equal marriage - though she insisted she would not overturn the law - and gender self identification were used against her in the last contest. How successful she navigates the debate around such issues and those of religious morality and belief will be crucial in her campaign.

Labour politicians have been briefing that Holyrood would not elect Ms Forbes as First Minister a move they say would increase the prospect of the government collapsing, forcing a Scottish Parliament election this year.

It's not a prospect that some in the SNP think likely.

They believe if there is a new SNP candidate for First Minister another party would put up their candidate and given the SNP is the largest party their nominee would win.

For instance if Ms Forbes was the SNP nominee and Scottish Tory MSP Douglas Ross put himself forward, Labour MSPs would not back Mr Ross, therefore allowing Ms Forbes to win, they say.

Plus they believe it's possible one party - maybe the Tories - could abstain perhaps fearful that giving their current polling they would lose a considerable number of seats in Holyrood.

Health secretary Neil Gray is a key ally of Mr Yousaf but is also said to be a figure who may be able to command support across the difference wings. Clearly any candidate able to bring unity to a deeply divided and troubled party would be seen by many members as an asset.

Leading bookmaker Coral last week made Mr Gray the odds-on favourite at 4-5 to be the next First Minister if Mr Yousaf steps down.

"Health secretary Neil Gray is seen as a safe pair of hands in the SNP, and we make him the odds-on favourite to replace Humza Yousaf, should the First Minister be replaced," said the bookmaker.

Cabinet Secretary Mairi McAllan is another possible contender.

Her climate target announcement a week ago last Thursday triggered the events leading to the collapse of the Bute House Agreement and next week's vote of no confidence.

Due to go on maternity leave in the summer, Ms McAllan's family time maybe short lived were she to become First Minister with an general election probably just months ahead. Some in the party believe she may not decide to stand in the circumstances.

Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth could also throw her hat into the ring.

It is thought that rather than a large list of candidates, the party may favour a head to head between Mr Gray and Ms Forbes should there be a leadership election.

For now though, all eyes, will be fixed on what happens when Mr Yousaf faces the fight of his political life in the votes on no confidence, most expect to be held in Holyrood next Wednesday.