Three candidates are set to fight it out to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s next leader, with the winner facing the daunting task of uniting a country divided over its future and a party fracturing over how to pursue another independence vote.
Sturgeon, in office since 2014, unexpectedly announced last week she was resigning as first minister of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government, saying she had become too divisive.
The frontrunner to succeed her and become the next leader of her Scottish National Party (SNP) is Humza Yousaf, a Sturgeon loyalist who has faced a barrage of criticism for his record in government.
He faces competition from Kate Forbes, a rising star whose opposition to gay marriage has garnered much media attention, and Ash Regan, who quit the government over proposed gender recognition reform.
The deadline for nominations was 12:00 GMT.
The campaign so far has been dominated by a debate about views on social issues such as gay marriage, transgender rights, and abortion.
“The big fundamental question facing the party… is how it’s going to acquire majority support in Scotland for independence,” John Curtice, Britain’s best-known pollster, told Reuters.
Under Sturgeon, who became leader after an independence bid was defeated in a 2014 referendum, the SNP positioned itself as a progressive, pro-European voice for a Scotland that needed to break away so it could end years of Conservative government from Westminster.
Curtice said Sturgeon’s pro-European stance was set to endure and one any of the three candidates will likely have to follow.
Unlike the English and Welsh, most Scots opposed Brexit in the 2016 referendum.