SNP leadership campaign: Independence and poll woes – key moments of fiery Sky News debate | Political News

The SNP’s three leadership candidates engaged in a fiery clash during a live Sky News debate as they failed to agree on several issues.

Ash Regan, Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf are battling it out to replace Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon after she announced she was stepping down last month.

Taking part in a live debate on Sky News, hosted by political editor Beth Rigby, the trio tried to win over SNPs voters moments after an exclusive Sky/YouGov poll found 54% of Scots want to remain part of the UK.

These are the key moments from the hour-long debate on Monday evening:


The whole reason for the SNP’s existence – but the trio could not agree on whether it is top of their agendas.

Asked if it was their top priority, Ms Regan said Scotland was suffering disproportionately from being in the UK while Ms Forbes said her priorities are the cost of living and public services.

Mr Yousaf, seen as the continuity candidate, was the only one who answered with a straight answer, saying: “Yes, independence is my top priority.”

Regan’s Scottish currency plans

Ms Regan was grilled on her plans for establishing a Scottish currency after saying earlier in the campaign one could be introduced quickly after independence.

But she struggled to explain exactly how that would come about and what other issues would have to be addressed if Scotland becomes independent.

She said she would set up a commission to establish plans for a new monetary system but pressed on what institutions are needed for that she only said a central bank.


Ms Regan admitted she could not give “the full details at this point” and insisted she only meant she could introduce a new currency within two months of independence if all the plans had been established beforehand by a commission.

Asked by Mr Yousaf what she would do if she became first minister in two weeks, Mr Regan said she would make the A9 road a dual carriageway but admitted she could not determine how much that would cost.

Polls, polls, polls

The trio, especially Mr Yousaf and Ms Forbes, bickered over who was most popular with the public.

Mr Yousaf insisted the momentum is behind him, despite some polls making for pretty grim reading.

He put himself over as the candidate that is popular with SNP voters, while Ms Forbes claimed she had the backing of more Scots overall.

But, in the end, it is only the SNP members who matter as they – not the wider voters – will determine who wins the leadership of their party.

Mr Yousaf accused Ms Forbes of losing SNP supporters as he boasted about overtaking her in the polls but she said she was “ahead in key metrics”.

Read more:
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Humza Yousaf speaking in the SNP leadership hostings at Rothes Halls, Glenrothes.  Picture date: Friday March 3, 2023.
Humza Yousaf

The Sky News poll released on Monday afternoon found 44% thought Mr Yousaf would be a bad leader, while Ms Regan came in at 39% and 36% for Ms Forbes.

But he batted off suggestions he had been a bad health minister, saying finance minister Ms Forbes had not been in a service delivery role while he has had “the most difficult and toughest jobs” in government for decades (health, transport and justice).

He defended his record as health secretary, which he started in 2021, saying waiting times were down due to the pandemic and Scotland had a speedy COVID booster roll out.

Ms Regan admitted her name is not so well-known but said she is “far from a rookie”, having been in government for nearly five years.

“I’m definitely less well known than the others but a good first minister does not depend on how well known they are but on their abilities, their plan and a good team,” she said.

Gloves came off in Sky’s SNP debate

The SNP’s facade of unity and discipline imploded live on Sky News this evening, writes Connor Gilles, Scotland Correspondent.

Outgoing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will have been watching the drama through her fingers as the three candidates vying to replace her came to blows over their record in government.

Humza Yousaf, seen as a party favourite, pivoted his message to the members while Kate Forbes took advantage of the exclusive Sky News poll suggesting she is seen in a more favorable light with the wider electorate.

Big holes were exposed in Ash Regan’s plans for setting up a currency in the initial months of independence.

During her Beth Rigby interrogation she failed to provide details. Yousaf’s stinging retort about Regan “not having a single plan for the economy” is far from what her camp wanted to hear.

Kate Forbes has endured repeated questions about social issues and this debate was no different. She failed to fully commit to banning all forms of conversion therapy in a painful exchange.

Yousaf was hit with a barrage of statistics on his missed NHS targets. He was robust in his responses from him, but the reality is he can’t dodge the facts. The Sky polls suggest the majority of Scots feel the NHS is handled badly by the SNP.

The health secretary pushed the discussion back to his varied ministerial roles in an attempt to undermine his opponent’s inexperience.

The big test in the short term is who can win over the SNP voters before the much bigger job of governing a country and appeasing a restless independence movement begins.

Conversion therapy, same-sex marriage and JK Rowling

Ms Forbes made headlines early in the campaign after saying her faith means having children outside of marriage is “wrong”.

Asked about unmarried and gay married couples, she told the debate “I certainly don’t disapprove” and said she would “defend the rights of everybody in Scotland to live without harassment and fear”.

She went in strong on whether a plan to ban conversion therapy should go ahead, saying: “Conversion therapy is abhorrent.”

But she got a bit tangled up when asked about people who wanted it done to themselves, saying people “should be allowed to live freely as they choose, I do not think there should be conversion therapy in Scotland”.

Scottish National Party leadership candidate Kate Forbes during a visit to the Cairngorm Brewery in Aviemore, part of her Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch constituency.  Picture date: Monday February 27, 2023.
Kate Forbes

Mr Yousaf tried to exploit Ms Forbes’ perceived weakness with SNP voters on social issues by suggesting she is “abandoning the progressive agenda” of the party.

He claimed: “With SNP voters, the momentum is with me.”

However, Sky News polling suggests Ms Forbes is most popular with Scots, if not with SNP members.

All three were asked if JK Rowling is a national treasure following her remarks about trans people, with Ms Regan and Ms Forbes agreeing she is and was “very brave” to talk out.

Mr Yousaf agreed she is a national treasure for her books “but I disagree vehemently with her view on trans rights”.

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Is JK Rowling a national treasure?


The candidates were asked if they would work with Labor if they were to win the next general election as polls suggest.

Ms Regan and Ms Forbes said they would while Mr Yousaf said he would “work with anyone to kick out the Tories”.

Mr Yousaf said his price to work with Labor would be if they gave him the power to hold another referendum.

The other two also agreed on that but differed in their opinions of the Labor Party.

Mr Yousaf called Sir Keir Starmer a “pale imitation” of a Tory and Ms Forbes said she would “always side with fellow progressive parties”.


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