Ash Regan has appealed for “an end to the mudslinging” within SNP ranks in the leadership contest to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister.
The former community safety minister appealed for party unity following a turbulent start to the campaigns of fellow candidates Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf – both of whom have come under fire for their record on LGBTQI+ issues and religious views.
Regan resigned from government over her refusal to back the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill that passed through Holyrood in December, but remains “very confident” of securing the required number of nominations before the window closes on Friday.
However, she called for “calm” and for the religious beliefs of all candidates to be respected during the race.
“The most important thing is we bring the party back together and we focus on the future and making a better Scotland,” she told STV News.
“I just want to put out a call for calm with everything that has happened over the past few days. Kate and Humza are really valued colleagues. They are important members of the SNP and I think all the mudslinging that is going on right now needs to stop.
“We all need to take a breath, we’re all going to be working together at the end of this. I want us all to come back together as a stronger SNP.”
She added: “I think we need to remember Kate and Humza’s religious views and I think we need to respect that. And if we can’t listen to people who have different views from our own, we’re going to be getting into a bit of a difficult situation.”
Deputy first minister John Swinney, who has already ruled himself out of the running, said he “profoundly” disagreed with Forbes’ religious views after the finance secretary revealed she would have voted against the introduction of same-sex marriage
The Free Church of Scotland member also said that having children outside of marriage “would be wrong according to my faith”.
The comments have seen her lose a number of high-profile backers in the leadership race, while Yousaf was also forced to defend why he was absent for a key vote on the issue of gay marriage.
Yousaf stressed he will not use his faith as a basis to legislate.
Asked whether she thought she would meet the threshold to stand for election by Friday’s deadline, Regan said she was “very confident,” adding she had already reached out to grassroots members of the Yes movement.
“Independence remains the key,” she said.
“I just had a meeting with Robin McAlpine from the Common Weal think tank and this is me reaching out to the wider movement.”
Voting will begin on 13 March and closes on 27 March, with the leader set to be declared that day.
Outgoing FM Sturgeon, who announced her surprise resignation in a speech at Bute House last week, denied the SNP was “tearing itself apart,” but echoed calls for the leadership debate to continue in a “respectful” manner.
“People look to their First Minister as someone who will stand up for them and their rights,” she told STV News.
“The SNP is having a leadership election, it will be having a robust debate, it is right and proper that the views, policies, the positions of those that stand, not only to be leader of the SNP, but First Minister are properly scrutinised and I think people should embrace that as positive democracy.
“The candidates are standing for the top job in Scotland, and therefore the debate should be respectful, it should be civilised, it should be thoroughly positive but anybody standing to be FM has to expect that their position, their policies and their outlook on certain matters has to be scrutinised, that is the nature of democracy.”
She added: “I trust my party and I have every confidence that it will elect a leader that can take Scotland forward in the right direction.”