The three candidates have obsessed over independence at the expense of public services, the Cost of Living Crisis and the economy.

SNP Leadership candidates Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes
SNP Leadership candidates Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes

Last week a lorry full of whisky burst into flames on the A9 and the SNP leadership contest burst into flames in a similar way on last Tuesday night’s STV Debate at 9.

This debate was meant to be one in which the candidates were supposed to be moving from private SNP member-only forums to begin addressing the rest of the nation. I shudder to think what they were saying to each other without cameras in front of them.

Kate Forbes relished the opportunity to ‘cross-examine’ Humza Yousaf, reminding us of his fruitless stints in charge of transport, justice and health. When asked whether she would include Yousaf in her cabinet, she said she might, but not in health, the role he has supposedly been in charge of over the last two years.  The “Chris Grayling” of Scottish politics.

Anyone hoping for a debate on the key issues in Scotland’s future- a just transition, our public services, jobs, the economy, our NHS- would have been left sorely disappointed. Instead, each candidate set out why they would benefit the SNP and the fringes of the independence movement the most, rather than how they would increase growth or social justice in Scotland.

Each of the candidates  are surely not the best the SNP have got but here is what they stand for and what they have said to date:


Ash Regan

Ash Regan MSP is obsessive about independence and how to achieve it. In her plan, Scotland would be allowed to begin negotiations for independence once there is a majority of support for independence-supporting parties in any election.

The fact that she is trying to tell my constituents what their priority should be at the next election- independence, rather than the economy, public services or climate change- is at least something she has in common with Nicola Sturgeon and the other candidates.

Regan’s campaign has a clear strategy: throw red meat to the most extreme wing of the SNP. Her cut-and-run strategy has also seen her campaign contact Alex Salmond’s Alba Party to hold a joint convention on independence. While extremely unpalatable, at least it makes more sense than sticking a readiness thermometer in Princes Street Gardens to tell people when Ash Regan thinks Scotland might be ‘ready’ for independence.

She also thinks there should be a “readiness thermometer” installed in Glasgow so that people can see progress towards independence and that the Scottish Government would declare independence when it hit the top.

Ash Regan is the MSP for Edinburgh Eastern that covers about 1/3rd of South Edinburgh Westminster constituency and has said nothing in her near decade in parliament on the key local issues that are devolved – including the GP crisis in South Edinburgh.


Humza Yousaf

If Humza Yousaf thought that being Nicola Sturgeon’s anointed successor would give him an easy ride perhaps shows his analysis of the erstwhile First Minister was wrong, principally that Sturgeon neither infallible amongst the Scottish population nor amongst SNP members.

Kate Forbes decided to take Yousaf to task on his legacy as a minister, asking why he thinks he would make a good First Minister, pointing out that “when you were transport minister, the trains were never on time. When you were justice minister, the police were strained to breaking point. And now as health minister, we have record-high waiting times.”

Those of us in Scottish Labour have been pointing this out for years and, while Humza Yousaf may have been the most incompetent of all of them, the current Scottish Government has been running the country incompetently for some time, buying ferries that don’t have windows, failing to close the attainment gap and letting valued cultural and community institutions go to the wall.

Mr Yousaf says independence should be in 3-5 years but doesn’t know how to get there.

Locally, he has refused to deal with the A&E crisis at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, the local GP crisis (and has since pulled the funding for the solution we had identified and NHS Lothian was taking forward), or the huge waiting times for operations that local people are waiting on.

The SNP establishments choice.


Kate Forbes

While Humza Yousaf was lost for words in the aftermath of Kate Forbes’s excoriating review of his ministerial career, he might just as well have replied “that’s a bit rich, coming from you Kate”, given her tenure as Finance Secretary.

Anaemic productivity and growth over the last fifteen years has meant that Scotland has consistently lagged the UK and the OECD average in productivity. She has failed to tackle the fundamental issues facing our economy, such as a skills gap that was costing Scottish businesses £360m even before the pandemic.

Her contribution to the SNP’s economic agenda has also been weak, publishing an economic independence strategy that, once again, fudged the issues of a new currency and sustainable public finances.

So if Kate Forbes has underperformed on her economic agenda, then you would hope her social views can save her reputation going forward. She has expressed views that belong in nineteenth century Scotland; gay men and women cannot get married and women should not have access to abortion services. Children should also not be born out of wedlock.

Mrs Forbes thinks independence should be declared if the SNP get more than 50% of the seats at the next General Election.

Clearly, neither the three candidates nor the SNP itself were ready for Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation. They are unprepared, they have not thought through their ideas and this is why their plans for Scotland range from uninspiring to absurd to downright dangerous.

While I have been made angry by the contest- and very occasionally made to laugh- this SNP leadership race has predominantly been saddening. Is this the best we can get? Must we put up with more SNP infighting and incompetence? Why must independence trump absolutely everything when it is not a priority for most Scots.

There is one ray of light here: under the leadership of Anas Sarwar and Keir Starmer, Labour have proven that they can win in Scotland and the UK. We are ready to replace the corrupt Tories and the incompetent SNP in Westminster and Holyrood respectively. As a nation, we no longer need to settle for two governments at loggerheads, merely existing and going through the motions. We can rebuild our economy for future challenges, reform our constitution and make the transition to Net Zero with the UK being a clean energy superpower. This is what Labour offers and we are ready for the challenge.


Further reading

In my article for Edinburgh Evening News this week, I wrote a bit more about the lacklustre candidates presented to the Scottish people in this leadership race, and you can read more here: Tartan Tory Forbes and hopeless Humza Yousaf can’t get rid of Conservative Government- Ian Murray

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