Warring factions told to 'grow up' as SNP figures take sides in leadership race

Warring factions of the SNP have been urged to “grow up” and avoid “taking lumps out of each other” as the race to become First Minister heats up.

The plea, from SNP veteran and former health secretary Jeane Freeman, came amid bitter infighting as leadership contenders jostled for position over the weekend.

Two candidates – health secretary Humza Yousaf and former community safety minister and gender rebel Ash Regan – launched their formal campaign for the top job, formally firing the starting gun of the race to Bute House.

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The latter pledged she would ditch the controversial gender reforms brought in by Nicola Sturgeon.

Humza Yousaf, one of the early leadership contenders to announce his campaign, has won the endorsement of a key figure.Humza Yousaf, one of the early leadership contenders to announce his campaign, has won the endorsement of a key figure.
Humza Yousaf, one of the early leadership contenders to announce his campaign, has won the endorsement of a key figure.

Depute leader of the SNP, Keith Brown, ruled himself out of the running, with Neil Gray the culture minister endorsing Mr Yousaf and ruling himself out as well.

Kate Forbes, the finance secretary, is widely expected to announce her campaign later this week, with Angus Robertson, the constitution secretary, still undecided as to whether to run.

However, the war within the party quickly burst into the public sphere following Ms Sturgeon’s resignation on Wednesday, sparking a rebuke from SNP veterans and former cabinet ministers.

Former senior SNP figure Jeane Freeman told her her party colleagues to “grow up” and to avoid “taking lumps out of each other”.

The former health secretary who stood down at the 2021 Holyrood election said: “I would say to my colleagues in the SNP, 'Could you grow up. Just grow up'.

"It's not about you, it's about the job that you were elected to do or the job that your party asked you to do. Grow up.

"You will convince nobody, you will persuade nobody, you will achieve nothing by taking lumps out of each other. There's a big difference between healthy disagreement - I'm all for healthy disagreement."

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She added: "But there is a big difference between respectful argument and listening to what others have to say and personal attacks and hyperbole and it takes us nowhere.

"If we don't know by now that a party that appears to be fighting amongst itself is a party that won't get support, that doesn't actually deserve it, then I don't know what more we have do to learn that lesson.

"We see it all around us, we have seen it in some of the circumstances where we have secured electoral victory by not being like that. So it is beyond my understanding that people are choosing this moment to be so self-indulgent."

Ian Blackford, the former SNP Westminster leader, also urged calm.

He said: “My message to those that are going to be candidates is to respect each other, respect the party, respect the public.

"I think it is fair to say that there have been some people that have said things that quite frankly they probably shouldn’t have said over the course of the last wee while.

"I would not lay the charge against some of the people you are talking about, Humza, Kate, Angus, Keith Brown and so on, they are exemplary figures.

"They will show leadership, they will show passion, and they will set out the stall that they will all have, but I know that each and every one of those will do that in a respectful manner and I’m sure that at the end of this period the party will be proud of the process we’ve gone through.”

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Reports on Sunday suggested the imminent demise of the SNP/Green cooperation agreement should Kate Forbes win the election.

However, senior Green sources suggest that the political benefit of having a guaranteed majority was something all of the main contenders valued.

They added key pieces of legislation, such as the National Care Service bill – led by Mr Yousaf, would not pass without the Bute House Agreement being adhered to.

Earlier on Sunday, health secretary Mr Yousaf won a key early endorsement in the race to become the next SNP leader.

Mr Gray was considered a potential dark horse in the contest with insiders believing his endorsement if he chose not to run being potentially decisive.

He said it had been “incredibly flattering” to have been asked by some to stand as leader, but SNP insiders suggested he had concluded it was too early to do so.

He said he had concluded that due to his young family and his relative inexperience in government, “now is not the right time for me”.

He added: “The job of the next leader of the SNP is to be a First Minister that can continue to govern effectively, build a team to re-earn the incredible popular support inspired by Nicola [Sturgeon] and to take people on the journey to consistent majority support for independence & a fairer Scotland.

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“My view is that Humza Yousaf has the skills and experience to bring people across the party and civic Scotland together behind our vision for a fairer independent Scotland.

"I will therefore be giving him my full support as the next SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland.”

Mr Yousaf said he was “delighted” to receive Mr Gray’s backing.

The health secretary said: "Neil is well respected across our party, movement and country, I am grateful he is putting his faith in me to be our next First Minister.”

However the decision by the culture minister not to run was viewed as “bizarre” by opposition sources.

A senior Scottish Labour source said: "It is bizarre that in a bid to save their own careers the backroom SNP operation has picked the less capable of the two choices available to them.”

Meanwhile, leadership rival to Mr Yousaf, Ash Regan, set out her stall for the top job by stating any pro-independence majority at any election in Scotland should be enough to trigger negotiations to leave the UK.

She said her policy would be to bring together pro-independence parties and organisations to discuss the way forward for the movement in a constitutional convention.

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In a statement on Twitter, Ms Regan added that any pro-independence majority at a Westminster or Holyrood election should be taken as a mandate for independence and she would – if first minister – then invite the UK Government to negotiate Scotland’s departure from the union.

One senior parliamentary SNP source told The Scotsman Ms Regan’s call of “no ifs, no buts, independence, nothing less” was “a version of Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again” slogan.

They added: “Do we huff and puff saying stuff like that or actually build our support for independence?”

Ms Regan also said she would ditch the “extremely flawed” gender recognition reform bill and won the endorsement of firebrand MP, Joanna Cherry.

She added she would also call for an independence convention to be held as soon as she became leader.

She said: “We need a new direction and we need to reprioritise. We need to bring back unity, draw a line under certain things and move past them.

"I believe I am the person to do that. I would not be progressing the GRR Bill, it’s caused a lot of division, it’s extremely flawed and I wouldn’t want it to take up any more time.”

Holding a constitutional convention has long been a policy of the Alba Party and its leader Alex Salmond – who on Friday praised both Ms Regan and Ms Forbes. Dumping Ms Sturgeon’s gender reforms is also a key plank of the rival pro-independence party.

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