THE SNP is likely to follow a "path of unity" despite the “vociferous” criticism between candidates during the leadership contest, a political analyst has predicted.

Dr Lynn Bennie, reader in politics at the University of Aberdeen, said the result of the ballot which saw a sizeable number of supporters of Kate Forbes voting for Humza Yousaf as their second choice – and vice versa - showed there are “all sorts of different issues at play”.

Despite the tensions in the SNP exposed during the leadership race, she said the party is likely to continue to follow a path of unity, as it recognises this is needed to win elections.

The result of the contest announced last Monday saw Humza Yousaf elected as SNP leader, winning 52.1% of the vote compared to 47.9% for Kate Forbes, after third placed candidate Ash Regan was eliminated.

READ MORE: New poll gives SNP bounce after Humza Yousaf elected leader

However the detailed breakdown of the leadership contest votes published by Mi-Voice, the firm which ran the contest, reveal a more complex picture of the choices of members.

Out of a total of 50,494 votes cast, the figures show 9763 only chose Yousaf on the ballot, while 3419 had Forbes only and 572 had Regan only.

The most popular combination was Forbes then Yousaf, with 9585 votes - closely followed by Yousaf then Forbes at 9178 votes.

Forbes then Regan had the backing of 7555 voters, while Yousaf then Regan had 5395. Meanwhile Regan then Forbes won 3331 votes and Regan then Yousaf totalled 1696.

The National: Ash Regan suggestion for a change in the election process was turned down (Paul Campbell/PA)

Bennie said many had anticipated that Regan’s supporters would all back Forbes as the second preference.

But she said: “There are all sorts of different issues at play, and I think in the end that looks about right to me – that most of the votes went to Forbes, but some of them went to Yousaf and that was enough to get him over the line.

“They are all SNP – so there shouldn’t have been candidates that members really didn’t like, they are all ‘part of the SNP family’ as the party would put it.”

She added: “That also relates to what happens now and whether these divisions play out – I think people are maybe overestimating the potential for division, I think this party understands it has to be united to win elections and I suspect they will follow on that same path.

“What surprised people was the level of criticism of each other [during the contest] and I guess it was Forbes that really started that trend.

“It maybe was more vociferous than people were anticipating, but I think in the end they are one party and they will function as one party again.”

The results also show the turnout for the contest was 70% of the party’s eligible total membership of 72,186.

The National:

Bennie said the last time the SNP ran a leadership election in 2004 – which was also the first for the party under the “one member, one vote” system, there was a turnout of around 80% among around 8,000 members.

She said the figures other parties holding contests varied – for example, the most recent Liberal Democrat leadership race which saw Ed Davey win saw a turnout of 57.1% compared to the election of Jo Swinson which had 72.1% turnout.

“Most people out there probably interpreted 70% [in the SNP contest] as lower than anticipated, because in the end these members were not just choosing the leader of the party, they were choosing the first minister of Scotland so that seems like quite a big responsibility," she said. 

“In the end 96% of them voted online, so this is a digital process now – it is quite easy to do. So it does make you wonder, why didn’t 30% vote?

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf to give 'scene setter' Holyrood statement on priorities

“One thing I have seen in membership studies is a lot of people join parties but they don’t do anything.

“They will never participate in anything, they won’t go to a local meeting, they won’t help select candidates, they won’t vote in leadership elections.

“That is just the way it is – you are never going to get all members participating, but let’s just say we are surprised that it is a little bit lower than we might have expected.”

She added: “It is probably a combination of people who wouldn’t vote anyway, some who thought Yousaf would win clearly and then others who just weren’t that impressed with any of the candidates.”

One major issue during the SNP contest was the row over the publication of membership numbers, which led to the resignations of party media chief Murray Foote and chief executive Peter Murrell.

Bennie said the SNP had regularly published figures until the end of 2021, with the last figures showing membership was just over 100,000.

She said: “They hold back that information from then on – so when they are literally forced to reveal these figures during the leadership process, they have gone down to 72,000. And that looks like a really dramatic decline.”

She said it was difficult to pin down what had caused the drop, but factors could include people spending less due to the cost of living crisis, as well as dissatisfaction with the gender reform legislation, progress toward independence and the de facto referendum strategy.

“It is probably a combination of all of those things – there is no one thing which has sparked a sudden decrease in members,” she added.

“Because if the membership hadn’t been declining over a longer period, the party would have been open about their numbers.

READ MORE: SNP: Peter Murrell resigned over 'cock-up not conspiracy'

“Until that point, this was a good news story for the SNP and they held back those numbers and the one conclusion I would come to is that must have been the start of the decline.

“In the end though, they are still a big party in membership terms and that is why in some ways they mishandled their communication about those numbers and it has backfired.”

Bennie also pointed out that some parties, such as the Conservatives, don’t reveal membership numbers even during a leadership contest.

The last figures published by the Scottish Tories in 2011 show a total membership of 9000.

She said: “The Conservatives in Scotland have revealed very little information about their membership – the last figure we had for them was over 10 years ago.”