Who is Ash Regan? SNP leadership candidate in profile - political views and history in parliament

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The former community safety minister lost out to Humza Yousaf in the bitterly contested SNP leadership race.

Ash Regan was the first to be eliminated from the SNP leadership race after she secured just 11% of members’ votes.

Humza Yousaf came out on top with 52% of first and second preference votes, while rival Kate Forbes fell narrowly behind with 48%. Tomorrow (28 March), Yousaf will face a vote in Holyrood so he can be officially appointed as Scotland’s new First Minister.

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Regan was designated as the outlier candidate throughout the contest, as Forbes and Yousaf were widely considered to be more prominent figures within the party. Forbes has been Finance Secretary since 2020, while Yousaf has served in a number of senior cabinet roles for Nicola Sturgeon since he joined the Scottish Parliament in 2011.

However, Regan had also risen in the ranks of the SNP, and her stances and views earned support from certain MSPs - so some still had hope for her success. At her official campaign launch, she said: “The truth is that our movement has been divided for far too long by petty differences and personal agendas.

“But we can’t afford to let these differences tear us apart any longer and we must come together as one united force for Scotland, because the challenges facing our country are too great for us to face them if we are divided.”

Now that her dreams of becoming leader of the SNP are over, Regan will now perhaps be hoping for a position in Yousaf’s Cabinet. So who exactly is she, how did she get into politics, and what are her views? Here’s what you need to know.

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Early life

Regan was born in Glasgow and would later move to England as a child. She grew up in Cumbria and Devon before attending Keele University in Staffordshire in 1992.

At the university, Regan studies International Relations. She would later go on to work in PR and Marketing.

Her interest in politics came in 2012, when she was asked by friends what her opinion was on Scottish Independence. Having lived in England since she was a child, Regan said her then-husband was surprised by her support for the ‘Yes’ movement.

Regan became involved with the SNP after becoming a strong independence supporter. (Credit: Getty Images)Regan became involved with the SNP after becoming a strong independence supporter. (Credit: Getty Images)
Regan became involved with the SNP after becoming a strong independence supporter. (Credit: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Regan became heavily involved with grassroots independence movements within Scotland. This included Women for Independence, a group she served on the committee of.

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She joined the SNP after the 2014 independence referendum, which ended in a narrow defeat for the movement. Regan was selected as a candidate by the party in the run-up to the 2016 Scottish parliament elections.

Parliamentary years

Regan was successful in her campaign and was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016. She is the MSP for Edinburgh Eastern, having defeated former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale in the 2016 election and being re-elected in 2021.

Her early days in parliament saw her given several junior roles such as parliamentary liaison officer for the culture and tourism department. In 2018, she was given the role of community safety minister following a cabinet reshuffle under Nicola Sturgeon.

Regan retained the role until 2022. She resigned after stating her opposition to the SNP’s plans for the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

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Regan has been a member of the Scottish Parliament since 2016. (Credit: Getty Images)Regan has been a member of the Scottish Parliament since 2016. (Credit: Getty Images)
Regan has been a member of the Scottish Parliament since 2016. (Credit: Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Opposition to gender reform bill

Regan was one of the most vocal opponents within the SNP of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which was voted through Holyrood with cross-party agreement in December 2022 but has since been blocked by the UK government. Upon resigning from her role in Sturgeon’s government, Regan said: "I have considered the issue of Gender Recognition Reform very carefully over some time. I have concluded that my conscience will not allow me to vote with the government at the Stage 1 of the Bill this afternoon.

"Consequently, I am writing to resign my position in the Scottish government as minister for community safety. I have greatly valued the opportunity over the last few years to work in government with colleagues to build a better Scotland."

She added that she believed the proposed legislation "may have negative implications for the safety and dignity of women and girls". Regan was one of a seven of SNP MSPs to defy the whip and vote against the bill in December 2022.

Regan’s leadership campaign

Regan officially launched her leadership campaign on the morning of 24 February - only a few short hours before nominations closed for the ballot. In her launch speech, she stressed the need for unity in the SNP, following the public debates amongst party members over such issues gender reforms.

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She said that the SNP had “lost its way” in the past few years, and placed focus on her intention to re-focus its attention on independence. In a subtle jibe at her former boss, Regan told her supporters: “I respect everything that my predecessors have achieved since 2007, but recently we have lost our way.

“Under my leadership we will re-establish our track record, we will reform our team, we will reiterate the vision of an independent country with parity of esteem in the world.”

Calling on the roots of her beginnings in politics, the former community safety minister said that she would invite groups who were involved in the 2014 ‘Yes’ campaign to take the lead on the new push for independence. Regan added that this would allow the Scottish Government to focus on other matters affecting Scots, such as the cost-of-living crisis and NHS struggles.

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