SCOTLAND saw its first gender-balanced cabinet appointed in 2014 after Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister - but how likely is her successor to ensure this continues?

Ash Regan, Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf are now in the final stages of their campaign to become the next leader of the SNP.

Each contender has voiced a raft of policy positions in the first few weeks of the contest, from independence strategy to tackling the cost of living crisis.

When Sturgeon took over from Alex Salmond, her first appointments in 2014 led to five men and five women taking on the top jobs in the Scottish Government.

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In her first reshuffle in 2016, Sturgeon kept the same ratio of women and men. When finance secretary Derek Mackay resigned in disgrace in 2020, Kate Forbes took on the role and the Scottish Cabinet had seven women in secretary positions, compared to only five men.

After the 2021 Holyrood election, Sturgeon again made sure the Cabinet was gender-balanced - again five women and five men - and reduced the number of Cabinet Secretary positions to 10 in line with her previous governments.

Speaking on International Women’s Day this year, Sturgeon told MSPs that one of her first acts as FM was to appoint a gender-balanced Cabinet.

She said: “I got lots of emails in the days after that asking how I knew that all the women in my Cabinet were there on merit. I was struck by the fact that I did not get a single email asking me how I knew that all the men in my Cabinet were there on merit.”

The National: Nicola Sturgoen said she hoped her successor would continue to appoint gender-balanced CabinetsNicola Sturgoen said she hoped her successor would continue to appoint gender-balanced Cabinets

Sturgeon pointed out that at the time, there were only three gender-balanced Cabinets in the world, but that this number had grown significantly during her time as FM.

She added: “I take this opportunity to say that I hope that future First Ministers will continue that practice.

“Unless we believe that women are somehow less qualified than men, it stands to reason that any Cabinet that is not gender balanced is not properly reflective of all the talents at our country’s disposal.”

Where do the SNP leadership candidates stand on appointing a gender-balanced Cabinet?

With voting now open for SNP members to pick their next party leader and Scotland’s new first minister, The National has asked candidates whether or not they would be continuing Sturgeon’s legacy in their own Cabinets if they win the contest.

Regan, speaking on the Holyrood Weekly podcast, said that she would be open to it but would want to make sure the right people were put in the right roles.

She said: “I'd certainly consider it but I've said I would put the best people in the best roles, and it's going to be, I'll have to put a lot of thought into who goes into what role.

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“I haven't thought about it yet, but I know it's a very key part of my pitch, which is that we have to stop making mistakes in government.”

The Edinburgh Eastern MSP added that it “feels a bit presumptuous” to talk about who would serve in her Cabinet before the contest ended.

On International Women’s Day, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf announced a raft of policies and commitments regarding women’s rights.

Yousaf said: “Today I am offering women across Scotland a cast iron guarantee that under my leadership there will be no rowing back in support for women’s rights or in women’s representation.

“That commitment to representation starts in the highest political office - that’s why as First Minister I would maintain a gender-balanced cabinet.”

And, speaking at a campaign event regarding women’s empowerment and involvement in public life, Finance Secretary Forbes hinted that it would be something she would be keen to continue too.

Asked by The National if she would look to appoint a gender-balanced cabinet if she becomes first minister, Forbes said: “Yeah, absolutely, yep.”