The three candidates contending to replace Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister have agreed that Scotland could be an independent country in five years.
In the last televised debate before the winner is announced on March 27 – Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf all agreed the country could leave the UK by 2028.
Mr Yousaf told the BBC Scotland audience he believed the country “can be” independent by 2028 in response to a question from an audience member.
Ms Forbes and Ms Regan were unequivocal in their answer, with Forbes adding: “Yes. I think it starts with us making the case that I talked about before.”
Ms Regan said: “I believe if I’m first minister, Scotland will become independent within five years.”
The former minister went on to say she believed independence to be “urgent” because of issues like Brexit and rising energy costs.
Mr Yousaf said: “I believe it can be and I would want to be the one who delivers independence.”
The candidates were also quizzed on the Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme (DRS), which has come under fire over its delivery in recent weeks.
Ms Regan and Ms Forbes have both said they would pause the scheme while the Health Secretary has pledged to create an exemption for small businesses.
Ms Regan said: “We can’t be putting too many burdens on small businesses.
“We need to look again at this, we need to involve small business, to come and talk to us about where it needs changed, get it right and then implement it.”
Ms Forbes also said small businesses needed a “bit of breathing space”.
Mr Yousaf said he would not “slag off” Lorna Slater, the Scottish Green minister responsible for bringing in the initiative.
Elsewhere, Mr Yousaf and Ms Regan clashed over transgender prisoners.
Humza Yousaf declared to the live audience that Isla Bryson – a transgender rapist housed for a short time in Scotland’s single female-only prison – was “at it”.
Asked during the BBC’s SNP leadership debate by former minister Ash Regan about the issue, Mr Yousaf said: “Isla Bryson should not be in a woman’s prison.
“Isla Bryson is a rapist who’s completely at it, I don’t think they’re a genuine trans woman, I think they’re trying to play the system.
“What we should never do is because we have a despicable individual like Isla Bryson who plays the system, we shouldn’t roll back the rights of 99.9% of trans women who commit no crime whatsoever.”
The leadership contest was sparked after Nicola Sturgeon announced in February that she was quitting the job she has held for more than eight years.
Voting in the contest to succeed her has now officially opened, with ballot papers being sent out to tens of thousands of SNP members, who are tasked with choosing their party’s new leader.
The result will be announced after the ballot closes at noon on Monday, March 27.