LONDON (AP) — Three members of the Scottish parliament will battle to become leader of the governing Scottish National Party, officials said Friday after the deadline for nominations closed.
Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and lawmaker Ash Regan are running to replace First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. She announced her resignation last week after eight years as leader of Scotland and the pro-independence SNP.
The party said all three passed the threshold of at least 100 nominations from 20 or more local party branches.
Voting by party members for the new leader, who will also become first minister, will open March 13, with a winner announced on March 27.
Forbes was considered the frontrunner, but dented her chances when she said this week that her faith would have prevented her from voting in favor of allowing same-sex couples to wed. Forbes, who belongs to the evangelical Free Church of Scotland, was not yet a lawmaker when the Scottish Parliament legalized same-sex unions in 2014.
Several SNP lawmakers withdrew their support from Forbes following her marriage comments, though others praised her for being open about her faith.
Forbes and Regan both oppose legislation championed by Sturgeon that would make it easier for people in Scotland to legally change their gender.
The gender recognition bill has been hailed as a landmark by transgender rights activists, but faced opposition from some SNP members who said it ignored the need to protect single-sex spaces for women, such as domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers.
The party’s next leader will have to decide what to do about the divisive bill, which has been passed by the Scottish parliament but blocked by the U.K. government
The winner will take charge of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government and of a party that came to dominate Scottish politics under Sturgeon. But Sturgeon failed in her main goal of taking Scotland and its 5.5 million people out of the United Kingdom, and attempts to secure a new referendum on independence have reached an impasse.
Scottish people voted to remain in the U.K. in a 2014 referendum that was billed as a once-in-a-generation decision. The SNP wants a new vote, but the British government has refused to authorize one, and the U.K. Supreme Court has ruled that Scotland can’t hold one without London’s consent.