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SNP candidates lighten tone in cross-examination

By John Davidson

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The SNP leadership hopefuls were given an opportunity to cross-examine each of the other prospective leaders at Friday's Highland debate – but there was a gentle and accommodating approach to the questions posed to their leadership rivals.

Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes. Picture: James Mackenzie.

In a fairly light-hearted cross-examination, Kate Forbes said to Humza Yousaf: "You used to have the best job in government which was minister for the islands and we spent a lot of time travelling to island communities together where Humza managed to face down a lot of difficult issues."

He anticipated the question that was coming, which was: "What is your favourite island?" He joked this was a surefire way to lose some support: "That's the plan!" joked Ms Forbes.

He said: "Other than Skye, which is everybody's favourite island – genuinely Skye is the most beautiful island I have been to and the Fairy Pools is the most beautiful site I have ever been to in Skye – I really love the island of Rum."

She asked Ash Regan if she had £100 million to spend in the Highlands, what would that be on? "I'm on record as saying I want to invest in the road infrastructure.

"I think I would also use that partly to fund a public energy company as I think that would be beneficial in terms of fuel poverty and I also think there is some rail infrastructure that needs to be upgraded for the Caithness area. That needs some money spending on it too."

It's only £100m, she is reminded as the list gets longer. She added: "We'll stretch it as far as we can."

Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Ash Regan asked Kate Forbes what her first or top priorities for the Highlands region would be if she becomes First Minister.

Kate Forbes said: "I think it does boil down to equal opportunities for our young people. If you believe that equality of opportunity should be the birthright of every child in Scotland, then that includes Highland children being able to access the same opportunities, the same access to college and university, the same access to work opportunities.

"And too often our young people have to travel way too far in order to get those opportunities."

Ash Regan quizzed Humza Yousaf on the coalition deal with the Greens.

"You have spoken very passionately about your complete and total commitment to the coalition deal with the Greens.

"Do you accept that has maybe had a difference on our priorities and maybe roads infrastucture projects being deprioritised," she asked.

Humza Yousaf responded: "It is about compromise. At a time when you have so much political discord, two parties which have a lot in common, but also have some differences, are getting together round a table.

"I genuinely believe in empowering our membership and 95 per cent of the SNP's members backed the Green deal, so if I am the new leader coming in I don't want to disregard that 95 per cent."

Mr Yousaf said would be open to sitting down with the Greens and reviewing aspects of the deal.

And he said the ongoing alliance would continue to require compromise on both sides.

In his own cross-examination, Humza Yousaf treaded lightly, asking Kate Forbes if she became first minister what she would take to Bute House to remind her of the Highlands.

"Aultbea black pudding," she responded.

Mr Yousaf also asked: "Do you also agree with me that the UK government hammering our whisky industry is just another example of where they take from Scotland and Scotland sees no benefits? So, if I’m first minister, will you join me in making sure we do everything we can not just to support our whisky industry but to make sure that the UK government stops taking from Scotland, and investing in this country?"

Kate Forbes said: "Absolutely, it would be my pleasure to back you in that regard. I think too often these key big industries are used to fund initiatives that never come back to benefit the communities where the industries are based."

Mr Yousaf asked Ash Regan to clarify her stance on prioritising joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) over the European Union.

She said: "Our party policy is obviously EU membership, and I’m not departing from that as such.

"What I’m suggesting is it might take us quite a while to join the EU and we would need our own currency first. So what I’m saying is that EFTA may be a short-term solution because you can join within weeks, it would give us access to a single market, free movement of people, it would also strengthen our hands for negotiations if we are facing the UK government round the negotiation table."

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