Scotland's next First Minister: Nicola Sturegon?

Debating Chamber Scottish Parliament

With news that Alex Salmond is to step down, political pundits are guessing who will become First Minister of Scotland - and of course lead the SNP.

The favourite is of course Nicola Sturgeon. She’s younger than Alex Salmond and has shown commitment to the SNP cause and the ability to lead by being Deputy First Minister. Other than being separated by ‘First Minister’ and ‘Deputy First Minister’ the pair are equals at the top of the SNP. If she became leader, she would be the first female First Minister of Scotland.

William Hill currently have her odds at 1/3, making her the top choice, whilst Ladbrokes give odds of 1/4.

However, Alex Salmond resigned mostly due to being at the helm of the party whilst losing the referendum. Nicola Sturgeon stood beside him as the Yes campaign failed to win - this could hamper her chances of becoming leader. But she is still the most obvious choice to take the reigns of the party.

Shortly after Alex Salmond’s resignation speech she has even been reported (by the BBC) to have said: ‘"I can think of no greater privilege than to seek to lead the Party I joined when I was just 16.’ Afterwords, she did however, say: ‘that decision is not for today.’

Perhaps John Swinney, the finance secretary, could take over the position, however, he led the party between 2000 and 2004 and he did not improve its chances. An unlikely candidate, but one of Alex Salmond’s top team players. Ladbrokes gives the odds of 10/1 of him becoming the next First Minister.

Fiona Hyslop is a household name. She is well known to ordinary voters and appears to be popular within the party. Could she challenge Nicola Sturgeon?

Humza Yousaf, Derek Mackay, Alex Neil and Mike Russel are all given odds of 10/1 (Ladbrokes), putting them level with John Swinney. Humza Yousaf is a junior minister and could be a wildcard in the race. But at the age of 29, maybe his time for leadership is not now, but at some point in the future.

Derek Mackay, the Local Government and Planning Minister, and Alex Neil, are however, given odds of 8/1 by William Hill.

But at this early stage in the political game it is far too early to know who else will stand for sure. A well known locally, popular, constituency MSP could rise to prominence to challenge Nicola Sturgeon’s presumed accession to power.

So what will happen?

Nicola Sturgeon is tainted by the Yes campaign’s loss, but Alex Salmond’s resignation could be enough to see her take the reigns of the party. What SNP are now focused on are two things: firstly, making sure the Westminster parties keep their commitment of more powers to Scotland; secondly, they are looking towards to the 2016 Scottish election, and to a lesser extent 2015. They will want someone to lead them to victory. Someone who can appeal to a broad range of people.

Nicola Sturgeon will likely win the leadership election. She is a popular and well-known face. She has a fiery passion for more powers for Scotland, as shown throughout the campaign. Additionally, because she is well known it will not be too hard for her to get into the 2016 campaign. She could also capture some voters for the SNP who were not prepared to back Alex Salmond.

A relatively new leader with an entire parliament to prepare could be a good thing, but there are less than two years until the next election. Nicola Sturgeon knows the ropes and SNP members are likely to realise this and vote for her to lead the party to victory in 2016.

The coming months will be an interesting time in Scottish politics, particularly for the SNP. A ‘no’ vote. A new First Minister. The promise of new powers.

The party might worry that the loss will see them lose support. But they will take comfort in two things: firstly, 45% of the population voted for independence, up from opinion polls even a couple years a go; and secondly, a ‘no’ vote might not see them out of power. Parti Quebecois, the party that gave Quebec its referendums, returned to power after losing the first referendum in 1980.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, or perhaps someone else, could lead the party to do the same.