SNP’s damning verdict… on the SNP: Leadership candidates roast each other over trains not running, health service meltdown and police failures in Scotland during extraordinary ‘circular firing squad’ TV debate
- The three SNP leadership candidates clash in contest’s first live televised debate
- Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan trade a series of blows in STV event
The SNP leadership contest has been compared to a ‘circular firing squad’ after the three candidates tore lumps out of each other in last night’s first TV debate.
Humza Yousaf, widely viewed as the frontrunner in the race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon, saw his ministerial record panned by rival Kate Forbes.
She accused her fellow Scottish Cabinet minister of overseeing failures across the country’s transport, justice and health systems during his time as a key member of the Scottish Government.
But he hit back by suggesting Ms Forbes’ election as party leader would see the SNP ‘lurching to the right’ following criticism of her socially conservative views.
Ash Regan, seen as the outsider in the contest to become Scotland’s next first minister, took a swipe at Ms Sturgeon’s record by claiming the SNP had ‘lost its way’.
She claimed ‘no progress’ had been made on Scottish independence in recent years.
Viewers expressed astonishment at the bitter exchanges between the three SNP candidates, as they appeared to deliver a damning verdict on their own party’s 15 years in power at Holyrood.
Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan tore lumps out of each other in last night’s first TV debate
The three SNP leadership candidates appeared to deliver a damning verdict on their own party’s 15 years in power at Holyrood
Eddie Barnes, campaign director of Our Scottish Future, described the hour-long live debate as a ‘circular firing squad’.
Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Tories, quipped the SNP leadership hopefuls had ‘fought like Nats in a sack’.
And Scottish Labour figures boasted the debate had represented a ‘party election broadcast’ on their behalf.
Last night’s head-to-head was the first live televised debate in the SNP leadership contest and was hosted by STV at the broadcaster’s headquarters in Glasgow.
The most brutal exchanges came between Mr Yousaf, Scotland’s Health Secretary, and Ms Forbes, Scotland’s Finance Secretary, who are considered to be the most likely replacements for Ms Sturgeon as SNP leader.
Ms Forbes attacked Mr Yousaf over his ministerial record, telling him: ‘You were a transport minister and the trains were never on time.
‘When you were justice secretary the police were stretched 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?’
When asked later whether she would keep Mr Yousaf in the Scottish Cabinet if she became first minister, Ms Forbes also sniped: ‘Maybe not in health.’
Mr Yousaf, the Scottish Health Secretary, was disparagingly branded the ‘continuity candidate’ and the ‘no change candidate’
It was suggested that Ms Forbes election as party leader would see the SNP ‘lurching to the right’
Ms Regan claimed the SNP had ‘lost its way’ and admitted there had been ‘no progress’ on independence in recent years
Mr Yousaf is a close ally of Ms Sturgeon and Ms Forbes took a dig at the pair when she insisted that ‘more of the same’ in the SNP ‘is an acceptance of mediocrity’.
‘It’s time for change, continuity won’t cut it – tonight, I offer a new start for Scotland,’ she said, as she promised to lead a ‘new generation’.
Ms Forbes branded Mr Yousaf the ‘continuity candidate’ and the ‘no change candidate’.
Mr Yousaf hit back at Ms Forbes – a member of the evangelical Free Church of Scotland – by highlighting criticism of her personal views and suggested her election as leader would see the SNP ‘lurching to the right’.
He claimed her opposition to Scotland’s gender identity reforms – pushed through the Scottish Parliament by Ms Sturgeon last year – was ‘clouding her judgement’ in her decsion not to challenge Westminster’s block on the legislation.
He also noted how ‘many people, particularly from our LGBTQ community, say they wouldn’t vote for independence’ if Ms Forbes was leader, after she last month set out her personal stance on issues such as same-sex marriage.
Mr Yousaf pledged to grow support for Scottish independence ‘to new heights’.
He also boasted he was the ‘only candidate’ ready to challenge Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s use of a Section 35 order to stop the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from becoming law.
But Ms Forbes suggested Mr Yousaf was ‘spoiling for a fight regardless of the legal advice’ on the constitutional wrangle between Edinburgh and London over the Holyrood legislation.
Who are the SNP leadership candidates?
The 37-year-old is the current Scottish Health Secretary and previously held the justice brief.
He has faced criticism over the NHS crisis in his current role, with rising treatment times and delayed discharges.
The 32-year-old is the current Scottish Finance Secretary.
She returned from maternity leave early to enter the SNP leadership race.
Ms Forbes impressed her party when she delivered the Scottish Government’s budget just hours after taking on the job in early 2020.
But her social conservative views on same-sex marriage, abortion and gender reform has led to scrutiny and criticism.
She is a member of the Free Church of Scotland, sometimes known as the ‘Wee Frees’.
The 48-year-old is a former community safety minister in the Scottish Government.
She is best known for resigning from that role over her opposition to Nicola Sturgeon’s controversial gender identity reforms.
Ms Regan – the only leadership candidate not currently serving in the Scottish Cabinet – claimed the SNP had ‘lost its way’ and admitted there had been ‘no progress’ on independence in recent years.
She insisted that an SNP majority at each election held in future would represent a ‘democratic mandate’ for Scottish independence.
In a swipe at Ms Sturgeon’s record as First Minister, she said: ‘There’s been no progress on independence in the last few years, despite the worst UK governments of all time.
‘We used to grow support for independence by governing wisely, and it worked.
‘At every election going forward, we will make it crystal clear that a majority of votes for the SNP will be a democratic mandate for independence.’
When all three candidates were asked if they would keep the monarchy in an independent Scotland, Ms Regan said in the ‘new circumstances’ after the Queen’s death it might be time for the SNP to debate if retaining the monarchy was still the right policy.
Ms Forbes said there were ‘bigger issues facing Scotland’, while Mr Yousaf said he would ‘keep the monarchy for a period of time’ but added: ‘I would hope an independent Scotland would be a republic in the future’.
Last month, all three of Ms Forbes, Ms Regan and Mr Yousaf were confirmed to have met the threshold to formally enter the leadership race.
About 100,000 SNP members will be able to begin voting for their preferred candidate on March 13.
Voting will then close at noon on March 27 and the result is expected later that day.
The first contested SNP leadership election in almost 20 years was triggered when Ms Sturgeon dramatically announced her intention to resign last month.
Mr Yousaf is the bookies’ favourite to be chosen as Ms Sturgeon’s successor as SNP leader and First Minister.
The Scottish Health Secretary received a huge boost earlier on Tuesday when Angus Robertson, the SNP’s former Westminster leader, gave him his backing.
‘I am in no doubt that it has to be Humza,’ said Mr Robertson, the Scottish Government’s Constitution Secretary.
Mr Robertson had been widely tipped to succeed Ms Sturgeon himself but later ruled out a leadership bid as he has two young children.
The decision by top SNP figures to support Mr Yousaf has led to attacks by rivals about him having the SNP’s ‘party machine’ behind him.
Edinburgh South West MP Joanna Cherry, who is backing Ms Regan, claimed her candidate was ‘making progress’ and warned it would be ‘very wrong to write her off’.
‘It’s no secret that the party machine is behind Humza and not behind Kate and Ash,’ she added.
Ms Forbes had begun the leadership contest as the apparent frontrunner but her campaign soon ran into difficulty when she faced questions about her socially conservative views.
In a series of carcrash interviews, the Finance Secretary admitted she would have voted against both gay marriage and Ms Sturgeon’s gender identity reforms.
Ms Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, also branded pre-marital sex ‘wrong’.
Early polling of SNP members had put Ms Forbes ahead of Mr Yousaf, but she now appears to have slipped behind her rival – with Ms Regan trailing in third place.