Scotland politics

Scottish ministers 'back Sturgeon as next first minister'

Nicola Sturgeon Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Seven cabinet ministers say they will back Nicola Sturgeon, if she stands as Alex Salmond's successor

Almost every member of the Scottish cabinet has publicly backed Alex Salmond's deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, to replace him as SNP leader and first minister.

Ms Sturgeon has yet to formally throw her hat into the ring.

But on Friday she said she could think of "no greater privilege" than to seek the leadership.

Pundits and bookmakers have tipped her as the clear favourite, although as yet there are no declared challengers.

If she does stand, no fewer than seven cabinet ministers have already pledged their support.

Finance Secretary John Swinney, who is a former SNP leader, said Ms Sturgeon would be an "excellent successor".

Analysis, Glenn Campbell, BBC Scotland News

Whether it's by coronation or contest, no-one seems to doubt that Nicola Sturgeon will be the next leader of the SNP and the next first minister of Scotland.

She will be the first woman to hold either post.

That's why the finance secretary, John Swinney, talked about glass ceilings being smashed when he endorsed Ms Sturgeon on Radio Scotland this morning.

Assuming no changes at the top in the other Holyrood parties, the leaders of the three largest political outfits will all be female from mid-November.

I'm not sure there are many, if any, other parliaments on the planet where that's the case.

At question time on the 19th, it likely to be Labour's Johann Lamont and the Conservatives' Ruth Davidson taking on first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

"I am encouraging Nicola to stand," he said. "I think she has demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities over the last 10 years as deputy leader of the party.

"I think she has all the attributes and strength required to take our party and our country forward," he said.

'Fantastic leader'

Education Secretary Michael Russell, who stood against Alex Salmond in 2004, has ruled himself out as a candidate this time.

"I will not be standing and I will offer my support to Nicola Sturgeon if she stands," he said.

The health secretary, Alex Neil, has told the Scotland on Sunday newspaper that he is not standing.

"I will support Nicola," he said. "I think it is time we had a woman first minister. She is absolutely the right person for the job to succeed."

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill gave his backing to Ms Sturgeon, while Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said he expected the Glasgow Southside MSP to secure the SNP's top job.

"Nicola Sturgeon is popular throughout the country and is clearly the frontrunner," he said.

The culture secretary, Fiona Hyslop, said: "I have always known Nicola would be an outstanding leader of the SNP at some point and her time is now."

Shona Robison, cabinet secretary for the Commonwealth Games and sport, endorsed her "lifelong friend".

"She'd make a fantastic leader and first minister and she would have my full support" she said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Alex Salmond will not make a formal endorsement of any candidate to succeed him

The Employment Secretary Angela Constance were not available for comment.

Mr Salmond has decided not to formally endorse anyone as his successor.

In his resignation statement, he said there are a "number of eminently qualified and very suitable candidates".

If Ms Sturgeon becomes leader, that would trigger a contest for the deputy leadership of the SNP.

One cabinet member suggested John Swinney for the job - but he has made clear that he will not stand for any party position.

It would still be possible for him to be appointed deputy first minister by whoever succeeds Mr Salmond.

Some in the party think that the new deputy should be an MP because the referendum has shifted much of the debate over Holyrood's powers to Westminster.

Others have tipped MSPs Humza Yousaf, Derek Mackay, Richard Lochhead, Shona Robison and Angela Constance, who are all Scottish government ministers.

Open nominations

The SNP is expected to open nominations for the post of leader in the coming days, with potential candidates likely to have three weeks to declare.

There would then be a postal ballot of all party members to decide the winner.

If Ms Sturgeon stands, a deputy leadership contest would probably run at the same time.

Mr Salmond will hand over to his successor at the party conference in Perth, which meets from 13 November.

He will stand down as first minister the following week.

Assuming his successor as SNP leader is an MSP, they would replace him as head of the Scottish government, subject to winning a vote in parliament.

That should be a formality as the SNP have a majority of the seats in the Scottish Parliament.

The new leadership team will have to decide what strategy the SNP should pursue after the referendum defeat.

That will include considering whether or not to revise Alex Salmond's view that a vote on independence can only be held "once in a generation".