Kate Forbes takes an early lead in first full poll since Nicola Sturgeon's resignation

Kate Forbes has taken an early lead among SNP voters in the battle to become the next First Minister, the first poll following the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon has shown.

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The poll, undertaken by Savanta for The Scotsman, is a blow for the health secretary, Humza Yousaf, who is the least popular of the front-runners for the SNP leadership among both the public and party voters.

Support for independence has also remained static demonstrating the degree to which constitutional sentiment is entrenched and goes beyond leadership personalities.

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Despite Ms Sturgeon’s resignation speech, support for Yes remains at 44 per cent, with No on 46 per cent and undecideds on nine percent.

Public finance minister Kate Forbes has taken an early poll lead in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon though is yet to declare her candidacyPublic finance minister Kate Forbes has taken an early poll lead in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon though is yet to declare her candidacy
Public finance minister Kate Forbes has taken an early poll lead in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon though is yet to declare her candidacy

With don’t knows excluded, No holds on to its small lead on 51 per cent with Yes on 49 per cent.

The poll interviewed 1,004 Scottish adults aged 16 and over online between February 15 and 17.

It shows finance secretary, Kate Forbes, has a small lead ahead of the other prospective candidates with 18 per cent of SNP voters at the Holyrood election in 2021 choosing her to succeed Ms Sturgeon.

She is also the most popular among the wider public with 14 per cent backing her.

Former SNP leader in Westminster and current constitution secretary, Angus Robertson, is the next most popular with 14 per cent of SNP voters and nine per cent of the Scottish public backing the Edinburgh Central MSP.

John Swinney, the deputy first minister, received 11 per cent of SNP voters’ backing and nine per cent of the wider public, but has ruled out running for the leadership.

Mr Yousaf, the last of the front-runners, has the support of just seven per cent of SNP voters and six per cent of the wider public.

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Other potential names such as culture minister Neil Gray and deputy leader Keith Brown languish at around one or two per cent support.

However, all contenders have work to do to boost their profiles even among SNP voters, with 34 per cent of them stating they don’t know and 50 per cent of the public also stating they don’t know.

Despite support for independence remaining static, the number of people who believe there should be a referendum in the next has dropped by five percentage points to just 16 per cent.

Independence has also dropped four points to 19 per cent when individuals are asked to pick the three most important issues facing Scotland, with the economy and health dominating.

Voters are also more likely to say that the case for independence is weaker today than it was in 2014, with that up five points to 34 per cent.

However, a plurality of voters (39 per cent) believe the case is stronger, with around a fifth (22 per cent) stating there had been no change.

The poll is also a boost for Scottish Labour on the weekend of their Spring conference in Edinburgh, with signs the party is continuing its upwards trajectory.

While the SNP still lead by 10 points on 42 per cent of the vote share (down one percentage point from the last poll), Labour have gained a net three percentage points and sit on 32 per cent.

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The Scottish Conservatives have lost two points, down to 17 per cent, with the Scottish Liberal Democrats unchanged on six per cent.

Such a result could see the SNP lose seven of their seats but remaining by far the largest party on 41 seats, with Labour winning 12 seats in total, up 11 from the 2019 general election.

Leader of the Scottish Tories, Douglas Ross, would be set to lose three seats, winning just three, leaving them level with the Liberal Democrats who would lose one seat from their original four.

In Holyrood on the constituency vote, Labour have also made a net gain of three points but remain 13 points behind the SNP (43 per cent, down one) on 30 per cent (up two).

The Scottish Conservatives are down one point to 17, with the Liberal Democrats holding steady on eight per cent.

On the regional list vote, however, Labour are now within five points of the SNP, with Anas Sarwar’s party on 27 points (up three) and Nicola Sturgeon’s on 32 (no change).

The Scottish Conservatives continue to fall into the clutches of the Scottish Greens, dropping two points to 16 per cent. Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater’s party sit just behind, up one point, on 14 per cent.

Alex Cole-Hamilton’s Liberal Democrats are also down one point on nine.

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Projecting this for the 2026 election, the SNP would lose five seats on 59, Labour would gain nine to sit on 31, the Conservatives would sit on 16, down 15 seats, with the Greens up seven to 15 and the Liberal Democrats up four to eight seats.

Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta, said Labour were “closing the gap” on the SNP with “notable, albeit small changes”.

He said: “Compared to the end of June, when Savanta and The Scotsman began recording a Westminster voting intention, Labour have closed the gap over the SNP from 21pts to just 10.

"While across the whole of the UK, Labour have been able to capitalise on the collapse of the Conservative vote, that isn’t evident in Scotland, and implies some direct SNP to Labour switching.”

He added: “The SNP, then, looking for a new leader, are at something of a crossroads. Making the right leadership choice will be imperative, else they do risk losing some Westminster seats to Labour, especially those where Labour finished second in 2019.

“Kate Forbes is the most popular would-be replacement for Sturgeon among both SNP voters and Scots as a whole, although she’s far from a runaway choice, with a half of the populace, and a third of SNP voters, stating they have no idea who’d be the best Sturgeon replacement.”

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