SNP leadership candidates clash on abortion access in TV debate

Humza Yousaf challenged Kate Forbes on whether she supported buffer zone protection zones outside abortion clinics.

SNP leadership candidates clash on abortion access in Channel 4 News debate

The two top candidates to replace Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP and First Minister clashed over abortion buffer zones outside Scottish clinics in a TV debate.

Current health secretary Humza Yousaf pressed finance secretary Kate Forbes on whether she supported calls for buffer zones outside medical facilities in Scotland.

Campaigners have been calling for the action in a bid to prevent those accessing abortion from experiencing intimidation or harassment.

During a Thursday night debate on Channel 4 News, Forbes repeatedly said she would support the principle of legislation for buffer zones, which was brought to parliament by Green MSP Gillian Mackay.

However, she would not be drawn on whether she felt abortion was morally wrong.

Yousaf challenged Forbes on the issue and said: “When Kate was asked this question (about her support for buffer zones) the other day at a hustings, you said ‘with balance’.

“What I didn’t understand is what you mean by that balance?”

Yousaf is running to replace Nicola Sturgeon.STV News

He added: “I think it’s right to ask what do you mean by that balance, would you allow, for example, prayer vigils?”

In her response, Forbes said: “This is an example where we see another candidate trying to poke holes and trying to erode the honest and solemn commitments I have made.

“It boils down to a question of honesty – does Humza accept my word when I say that I will uphold those legal protections and support buffer zones or not?”

Yousaf said the question had been asked by abortion rights group Back Off Scotland, who previously called for candidates Yousaf, Forbes and Ash Regan to outline their stance on the issue.

In a tweet following the debate, the group claimed Forbes had “lied” on national television claiming she had responded to their letter.

SNP leadership contender Kate ForbesSTV News

They later said Forbes’ team responded to them after the debate had gone out.

According to her campaign manager Michelle Thomson, the response was signed off two days ago but due to her error was not sent until Thursday evening.

Yousaf took a further swipe at the Finance Secretary’s statements on social issues, saying he had heard from “hundreds” of members who were dissatisfied with Ms Forbes’ previous comment.

Speaking to journalists after the debate, Forbes said claims from the Health Secretary he would not “sling mud” in the leadership race had “disintegrated”.

However, Yousaf was at pains to stress he was seeking clarity on her policy position, rather than attacking her personal views.

The tension in the race was ratcheted up by another fiery exchange between the two on Tuesday during the first debate on STV, where Forbes took aim at Yousaf’s record in government.

Given the opportunity to apologise for the exchange, which Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said would feature on his party’s election leaflets, the Finance Secretary doubled down.

She said: “We’re electing here, a future first minister, who will have to deal with some very weighty matters.

“The SNP hasn’t had an election contest for 20 years, and I think we need the time and the space for robust, frank exchanges.

“I’m proud of the track record of our SNP government, I’m proud of the exceptional leaders we have, I’m proud of the team members that we have around the cabinet table.

“But in an election contest, people don’t want to hear that we’re just going to do what we’ve always done.

“If we just do what we’ve always done, then we’ll get the same outcomes, and all of us here are agreed on the need for reform.”

The debate also focused on the candidates’ plan to achieve independence for Scotland.

Former minister Ash Regan pitched herself as the candidate that would push quickest for Scottish independence, saying: “This is the time for brave hearts, not faint hearts.”

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