Scotland’s finance secretary Kate Forbes is to leave the country’s devolved government after being offered a more junior role by incoming first minister Humza Yousaf.
Yousaf narrowly defeated Forbes in a bitter Scottish National party leadership election that ended on Monday and her departure from the government risks deepening divisions exposed during the contest.
The Scottish parliament in a vote on Tuesday confirmed Yousaf as the successor to Nicola Sturgeon as the country’s first minister.
He signalled that he would pursue a gradualist approach to the SNP’s cherished goal of Scottish independence, saying the parliament should first show how to make good use of its devolved powers.
Yousaf stressed the need for SNP unity on Monday, in a stance that hinted at the possibility of a ministerial job for Forbes.
But Forbes, who had been on maternity leave since last summer, told Yousaf on Tuesday that she did not wish to be considered for a post in his cabinet, said two people briefed on the conversation.
Forbes, who intends to resume her duties as a backbench MSP after the Scottish parliament’s Easter recess, was offered the rural affairs portfolio by Yousaf, added one of these people.
During the SNP leadership race, Forbes strongly criticised Yousaf’s record in government and suggested the party’s overall performance in power had been mediocre.
Yousaf won 52.1 per cent of the votes cast by SNP members in the election, while Forbes secured 47.9 per cent.
Yousaf said on Tuesday he would nominate Shona Robison, a close friend and ally of Sturgeon, as deputy first minister.
The move underscores how Yousaf largely presented himself as the continuity candidate in the SNP leadership contest, who would preserve and build on Sturgeon’s social policies.
Robison, currently social justice secretary, was the driving force behind the Scottish government’s contentious legislation making it easier for trans people to obtain legal recognition of the gender.
The legislation has been blocked by the UK government and Yousaf made clear he was committed to mounting a legal challenge against Westminster’s move.
In one notable break with Sturgeon during the SNP leadership race, Yousaf rejected her strategy of using the next UK general election as a “de facto” independence referendum, saying his party should instead focus on increasing public support over time for Scotland ending its union with England.
Scots are divided roughly in half on the question of independence, according to opinion polls, after voters decided by 55 per cent to 45 per cent to stay in the UK in a referendum in 2014.
The UK government has since then rejected calls by the SNP to authorise the holding of another referendum.
In a speech to the Scottish parliament on Tuesday after it had nominated him to be first minister, Yousaf said he would work tirelessly for independence.
He added: “I understand that the strongest argument this government can make for independence is to make the best possible use of this parliament’s existing powers.”
In an unusually amicable parliamentary session, opposition party leaders largely focused on the symbolism of Scotland having a first minister from an ethnic minority for the first time.