KATE Forbes is the public's favoured candidate to become Scotland’s next first minister with voters having the most faith in her to successfully manage all the key areas of government.

On healthcare and the NHS, education, crime, environment, transport, economy and constitution, the current finance secretary outscored her rivals Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan.

Some 32 per cent believed she was best placed to manage the economy compared with 18 per cent for Mr Yousaf and nine per cent for Ms Regan.

Just 17 per cent of people believed the health secretary would perform best in running the NHS, significantly lower than Ms Forbes on 29 per cent, while Regan was on 10 per cent.

Some 29 per cent of voters thought Ms Forbes would be best to manage education, compared to 18 per cent for Mr Yousaf, 10 per cent for Ms Regan.

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On crime 25 per cent favoured Ms Forbes to be in charge, compared to 17 per cent for Mr Yousaf and 10 per cent Ms Regan).

For managing the environment the figures again favoured Ms Forbes on 24 per cent compared to 17 per cent Mr Yousaf, 11 per cent Ms Regan), while on transport the figures were 25 per cent Ms Forbes, 19 per cent Mr Yousaf, 8 per cent Ms Regan.

However across all the areas between 41 per cent and 50 per cent of voters did not know who would perform best.

The poll, which echoes the result of previous surveys suggesting Ms Forbes is the public's favourite choice for FM, is released as members of the SNP prepare to start voting from tomorrow in the contest that will determine the party’s new leader and Scotland’s next first minister. 

It also found the party's bitter leadership contest in the wake of Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation is damaging it's electoral prospects.

In the first test of the public mood since the three leadership candidates went head to head, SNP support in a Westminster election fell to its lowest level in five years, according to Survation polling.

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Backing for independence is also at its lowest level since the autumn of 2018 — falling to 45 per cent, the same level as the 2014 referendum.

Professor John Curtice, the leading pollster, said the findings “strongly suggest” the rancorous leadership TV debate — in which leading candidates Ms Forbes and Mr Yousaf trashed each other’s record in government — has “so far has proven unattractive to voters”.

Last night the SNP hierarchy was accused of “absolutely panicking” after John Swinney waded into the leadership race to back Mr Yousaf to succeed Ms Sturgeon.

During the first STV debate on Tuesday, Ms Forbes in effect said she would sack Mr Yousaf as health secretary and was withering about his performance in other roles.

The pair exchanged barbs, with Mr Yousaf accusing Ms Forbes of having “left us about £600 million short” in budget talks with Rishi Sunak when he was chancellor, and claimed she planned to drag the SNP to the right.

The row prompted Mhairi Black, SNP Westminster deputy leader, to warn that the party could split if Ms Forbes was elected leader as several ministers said they would be reluctant to serve under her.

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Mark Diffley, founder and director of Diffley Partnership, said: “The poll also asked whether the election of any of the three candidates would make any difference to support for independence or support for the SNP.

“By and large there was little difference, other than whichever of the candidates was elected, there would be an average 3 per cent drop in independence support and in support for the party.”

Malcolm Robertson, founding partner at Charlotte Street Partners, said: “Kate Forbes clearly has greater appeal among the public at large on key issues such as health, education and the economy.

“What is fascinating in this election is whether SNP members vote for their next leader and Scotland’s first minister with that wider, long-term perspective or decide on the basis of other reasons.”


The latest polling of general voters suggests Ms Forbes, who has rebounded after a disastrous start to her campaign after being criticised for her conservative views on gay marriage and abortion, is by far the most trusted candidate, although all would lead the SNP to victory in Holyrood and general elections though with fewer seats.

Projections of seats based on the poll suggested the SNP would lose nine seats at Westminster in an election to fall to 36, while in Holyrood the party would be down eight to 56.

However, Scottish Labour under its leader Anas Sarwar would be projected to secure 32 seats at the next Holyrood election — up 10 and their best result since 2011 when they won 37 under Iain Gray. The party would also take 14 Westminster seats, dramatically increasing their presence in the Commons from their sole current MP, Ian Murray in Edinburgh South.

The Scottish Conservatives would drop eight seats in Holyrood to 23 and lose two at Westminster, reducing their cohort to four.

A deeper look at the poll data highlights that SNP have a similar view of each of the three candidates across the range of Scottish Government responsibilities, while Labour and Conservative voters have a higher rating for Ms Forbes. 

For example, on the economy, 33 per cent of SNP voters think that Ms Forbes will perform best, a lead of 3 points over Mr Yousaf on 30 per cent. However, this gap 
grows to 20 points among Labour voters (35 per cent for Forbes vs 15 per cent for Yousaf), and 31 points among Conservative voters (39 per cent vs 8 per cent).

The poll was commissioned by Charlotte Street Partners, the strategic communications and public affairs consultancy, and The Diffley Partnership, an Edinburgh-based research and polling company. It was conducted by Survation from March 8 to 10 with 1037 people taking part in the survey.

Mr Swinney's endorsement of Mr Yousaf is the most dramatic yet and is certain to fuel rumours that the SNP establishment is attempting to influence the vote.

It came hours after SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn also backed Yousaf saying he could take the party to “new heights”.

Ms Sturgeon has already made clear she will not publicly back any of the three contestants seeking to replace her.