SNP leadership contest: Nicola Sturgeon denies SNP 'civil war' amid brutal leadership race

Nicola Sturgeon has denied there is a “civil war” in the SNP after brutal exchanges between the candidates to be the next first minister.

Ms Sturgeon insisted there was “no prospect” the contest would split the party, but warned her successor they must retain the trust of the Scottish people.

It comes after Kate Forbes trashed the record of her main leadership rival Humza Yousaf during a live TV debate earlier this week, and even suggested Ms Sturgeon presided over a mediocre government.

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Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross repeatedly used Ms Forbes’s comments to attack Ms Sturgeon during First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) in Holyrood on Thursday.

Nicola Sturgeon and SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesNicola Sturgeon and SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon and SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Mhairi Black, the SNP’s deputy leader at Westminster, said she did not know if the party would stay together if Ms Forbes, the finance secretary, is chosen as the new leader.

Asked if a split could happen on The Bunker podcast, Ms Black said: “Honestly I don’t know, to tell you the truth.”

Quizzed about Ms Black’s comments, and whether there is a civil war in the SNP, Ms Sturgeon told journalists: “No, I don’t think that. We’re having a democratic election.”

She said it was almost 20 years since there had been an SNP leadership election, adding: “People are not used to it. But it’s a democratic election, and that’s something to be embraced. I genuinely haven’t seen Mhairi’s comments. I don’t want to comment on things that might be out of context, but I don’t believe there is any prospect of the SNP splitting.”

Ms Sturgeon said internal elections were “tough”, adding: “Sometimes internal elections can be the hardest, because it’s your colleagues you’re up against, but it is the relatively easy part.

"This job is not easy. It’s really, really difficult, and the most important challenge and the task of whoever succeeds me is to retain the trust of the people in Scotland. Because if we don’t have that, building on everything we’ve done in government over 16 years, eight of them under my leadership, then nothing else is possible.”

Pete Wishart, the SNP’s longest-serving MP, said leadership contests “are meant to be robust, with candidates rightly challenged and policy positions properly debated”.

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But writing on his personal blog, he added: “What should not happen is the trashing of our own Government’s policies and the dismissal of important Government partners. It should come as absolutely no surprise that our political opponents will be all over this and we should expect to hear this quoted back at us, ad nauseam.”

Mr Wishart said the leadership hopefuls “now have to rein it in”.

During FMQs, Mr Ross said Ms Forbes had “torched the SNP’s record in government”. He said: “Nicola Sturgeon has divided Scotland and now her departure is dividing the SNP.”

He said “while the SNP go through this civil war, the real priorities of Scotland are being ignored”. The Tory leader told Ms Sturgeon: “Finance secretary Kate Forbes said this about Scotland – the trains never run on time, the police service is stretched to breaking point, there’s record high waiting times in the NHS.”

Ms Forbes made the comment while condemning Mr Yousaf’s efforts over the years as health, justice and transport minister.

Mr Ross went on to recall that when the First Minister had “handpicked” Ms Forbes to be promoted to finance secretary in 2020, she had described her as having a “forensic grasp of detail”. He added: “On this Government’s record, she has got the detail bang on the money, hasn’t she?”

Ms Sturgeon claimed “every single one of the SNP politicians mentioned by Douglas Ross today have more popular and public approval than he does”.

She said: “Douglas Ross, I think, is the least popular elected leader in Scotland today. Perhaps if he spent a bit more time looking in the mirror, reflecting on the reasons for his party’s and his personal unpopularity and a bit less time thinking about the SNP, he might not be in the dire straits he is in right now,” she said.



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