STV debate

Leadership rivals reveal SNP’s internal conflict

Three not so amigos: Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan

Internal conflict within the Scottish National Party was laid bare in a televised leadership debate which saw the three candidates tear into each over its strategy.

Kate Forbes, the Finance Secretary, took aim at her own government’s record, claiming: “It is time for change. Continuity won’t cut it”.

She added: “More of the same is not a manifesto, it is an acceptance of mediocrity”, and accused rival Humza Yousaf, whom she clearly sees as her main rival for the job, of failing in his three Cabinet posts.

She said: “When you were transport minister the trains were never on time. When you were justice minister the police were strained to breaking point. And now as health minister we’ve got record-high waiting times. What makes you think you can do a better job as first minister?”

Mr Yousaf said he had the most experience in government and would “stand up to the Westminster power grab and defend our democracy.”

Ms Forbes accused him of “spoiling for a fight”.

Mr Yousaf, responded by saying Ms Forbes had failed to keep Yes voters onside and accused her of having “left us about £600 million short” in budget talks with Rishi Sunak when he was chancellor.

Former safety minister Ash Regan opened the 70-minute debate, broadcast on STV, by claiming the SNP “has lost its way”.

The candidates failed to agree on the way forward for independence – the SNP’s central policy – with differing views on what route should be taken.

Ms Regan said she wanted to move quickly towards a split with the UK and end the constant talk about referendums that have failed to deliver.

“I don’t want to lead people up the hill and lead them back down again,” she said.

Nor could they agree on whether they would retain the partnership in government with the Green Party or when – or if – Scotland should rejoin the EU, with Ms Regan saying it would take up to 15 years and joining EFTA would be her preferred option.

The economy got scant mention, with Mr Yousaf committing only to building a “well being economy”. Ms Forbes said it was key for the party to build a case for independence around a strong economy.

There was bad news for the Royal Family as Mr Yousaf and Ms Regan both declared they were republicans, though both said they would go to the coronation in May. 

Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “After 15 years of SNP failure, Scotland is crying out for change.

“But all the SNP can offer Scotland is the politically illiterate Ash Regan, the social and economic conservative Kate Forbes and the dangerously incompetent Humza Yousaf.

“Frankly, I would not trust these candidates to run a bath let alone a country.

“While the SNP sinks further into infighting and recriminations, Scottish Labour is facing the future.”

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