Kate Forbes is the most popular candidate to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as Scottish first minister, despite the row over her religious beliefs, a poll of SNP supporters has revealed.
Scots who voted for Ms Sturgeon’s party in the 2021 Holyrood election were questioned on who they think should replace her.
Almost a third (31 per cent) of those questioned said they do not yet know who to back.
But 28 per cent said they support current Scottish finance secretary Ms Forbes, putting her ahead of rivals Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan, who polled 20 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.
It is the first survey of SNP supporters to be carried out since the leadership contest began.
It will serve as a boost for Ms Forbes, after some SNP MSPs withdraw their support for her amid the row over her religious beliefs.
The backlash against Ms Forbes, who is a member of the Free Church of Scotland, began after she revealed on Monday that she would not have voted for same-sex marriage if she had been an MSP at the time the legislation was passed.
The poll, carried out for communications agency the Big Partnership, involved 1,001 Scots who voted SNP in 2021. They were questioned between Monday and Wednesday this week.
It found only 5 per cent of SNP supporters think the new leader’s faith or personal beliefs are important.
However, 58 per cent said it is important for whoever succeeds Ms Sturgeon to have a plan in place to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, with 53 per cent saying the new leader should have a blueprint to grow the economy, and the same proportion wanting a plan to improve health, education and other public services.
Tackling the cost-of-living crisis was identified by 65 per cent as a priority for the new leader, with 58per cent regarding the NHS as a priority, putting this ahead of jobs and the economy (31per cent) and independence (30per cent).
The poll also found that 61per cent of SNP voters want a referendum on independence to be held within the next two years – with 75per cent saying such a vote should take place within the next five years.
Only 12 per cent of those surveyed said they are either somewhat or very unlikely to vote SNP on the regional list ballot when Ms Sturgeon is no longer party leader.
Paul Robertson, head of public affairs at Big, said: “Our landmark poll suggests that the focus of the leadership election so far does not reflect the priorities of SNP supporters, many of whom may have a vote in this leadership election.
“Our poll indicates that SNP voters want to judge the candidates on their plans for the bread-and-butter issues of Government – tackling the cost-of-living crisis, growing the economy and improving public services.
“These are the issues which our poll shows SNP voters think are most important, whilst questions of faith and personal belief, which have dominated the headlines, are relatively unimportant for those choosing the new leader.”
He said it is “surprising to see SNP voters desire a referendum sooner rather than later”.
He added: “When considering the top priorities for a new first minister, SNP voters seem to acknowledge that it is current issues like the health service, the cost of living, and the economy that should come first.
“This poses a challenge for leadership contenders who will be expected to have a clear plan to deliver a referendum, whilst also demonstrating they can address these key issues of Government.”