June 21. 2024. 3:12

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SNP leadership battle enters final 12 days as front-runners sell their visions for Scotland

The two front-runners to become the next leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) have started staking out clear battle lines as the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon enters the final 12 days.

Health secretary Humza Yousaf, favoured by much of the SNP establishment, has started to steer his campaign messaging towards a more radical independence agenda, while finance minister Kate Forbes, his more conservative main challenger, hones her pitch based on economic competence.

As the candidates were preparing for the last scheduled television debate of the campaign on Tuesday evening on BBC, Ms Forbes’s campaign said she would spend part of Wednesday promoting Scotland’s food and drink industry. Mr Humza, meanwhile, has this week pushed a republican agenda for Scotland, saying that if it gains independence he hoped it would ditch the monarchy within five years.

On Tuesday, the candidates faced off on BBC in front of a live audience, who posed questions on public services, the economy and independence. Ms Forbes and Mr Yousaf clashed on the economy, with the health minister accusing her of advocating a “lurch to the right”. She denied this and said he was engaging in “desperate spin”.

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During a Sky television debate on Monday, Ms Forbes said that if elected she would focus on boosting economic growth as a means to eradicate poverty and pay for better public services. She promised to “reach across the divide and persuade [independence] No voters” to back the SNP’s agenda.

Mr Yousaf emphasised his “radical and progressive” politics, and said his main focus would be on “building a team to deliver independence”. The latest polls show support for independence among voters slipping slightly, with a YouGov conducted over the weekend putting it at 39 per cent.

The race to replace Ms Sturgeon, and become first minister of Scotland, has descended in a bitter and divisive battle between the two front-runners in the race, which also includes former minister Ash Regan. The second preference transfers of her voters may prove crucial in determining the overall outcome if neither Ms Forbes nor Mr Yousaf can muster a majority after the first round.

Mr Yousaf has earned the public backing of most of the SNP’s senior figures, including deputy first minister John Swinney and Stephen Flynn, the party’s leader in Westminster. Ms Forbes has battled her way back into contention after her campaign almost imploded in the first few days of the race last month due to scrutiny of her socially conservative views on issues such same-sex marriage.

Polls show more voters across Scotland favour Ms Forbes as a first minister over Mr Yousaf, while she also has a slim lead over her rival in most polls of SNP voters. However, voting in the leadership contest is restricted to the SNP’s 100,000 or so membership base, of which there is little reliable polling, making accurate predictions difficult.

All official party hustings events have finished and, following the BBC television debate, the focus now moves to on-the-ground campaigning as the race enters its final stages. Voting is taking place over this week and next, with the winner due to be announced on Monday, March 27th.

Senior figures in the party, including Mr Flynn, have called on whoever wins the SNP leadership to reunite the party after a series of sharp and personalised exchanges between Mr Yousaf and Ms Forbes throughout the campaign.