KATE Forbes has said that the SNP need to be able to have a “robust” conversation following last night’s televised leadership debate where she criticised Humza Yousaf’s record as a minister.

During the debate on STV, Kate Forbes said in her opening remarks that “more of the same is not a manifesto – it is an acceptance of mediocrity".

Forbes also blasted Yousaf’s record as a minister.

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She said: “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’ve got record high waiting times.”

However, during a visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on Wednesday morning, Forbes defended the exchange and said that SNP members deserved a “robust” debate from the candidates.

“I think this is a healthy campaign where there are robust exchanges,” she said.

“We need to have robust and frank exchanges and I think the SNP is big enough [to handle it].

"It’s a party of 100,000 members. It’s a diverse group; it reflects the diversity of Scotland. And they want to see a healthy debate on profoundly important issues, like the future of the independence movement, growing our economy, and ending poverty.

“If we cannot have that robust exchange about what’s working – and we can’t have the honesty about what’s not working – then I don’t think we are serving either SNP members or the wider public.

“I think last night you will have heard that healthy exchange from all candidates. I don’t think anyone was standing there to say that there aren’t some things that need to be changed, perhaps it’s just a question of degree.”

When asked by The National whether describing her own government’s record as “mediocre” would make it harder for activists to campaign for the party on the doorstep, she said: “The approach to government right now is that the SNP has a proud track record, a strong track record, which activists have been selling on the doors.

"I’m an activist myself and I have knocked on doors and persuaded people to vote SNP on the back of our record.

“But we need to look to the future and determine how to lead Scotland into the next decade. And to do that we need to focus anew on a growing, prosperous economy, on eradicating poverty, and investing in our public services.

"And more of the same won’t cut it. We do need an honest and grown-up debate and I think the SNP is big enough and brave enough to have that adult debate about what the future holds.”

The leadership candidate was also questioned on her position on Section 35 after she said that Yousaf was “spoiling for a fight” with the UK Government over his promise to take them to court over its veto of gender recognition reform legislation.

She said that her position was more “nuanced” and vowed to be guided by legal advice on the likelihood of the Scottish Government winning the case.

“It’s absolutely incumbent on a first minister to consider the legal advice because going to court should be the last option, not the first option,” she said.

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“I don’t think any government should be spoiling for a fight and I think that the legal advice will determine the likelihood of winning and will also determine, roughly, the costs.

“And in a cost of living crisis where government is stretched financially, I think it is the responsible approach to consider legal advice first and make the decision after that, which is why I’ve got a slightly more nuanced approach.”

Later, Forbes signalled that there would be a re-think on the recommendations of a consultation paper which would restrict the advertising of alcohol if she became first minister.

Despite not being a whisky drinker herself, she said that she didn’t think the government should be banning advertising for a “key industry”.

She said: “I don't think we should banning whisky advertising full stop. When it comes to supporting our key industries, I don’t think we should be banning the advertising of whisky and I think it would be extremely difficult to distinguish between [different types] of alcohol.

“I would not be in support of a ban on alcohol advertising.”