HUMZA Yousaf sniped back at Kate Forbes’ accusations of “mediocrity” within the SNP – and set out a solid commitment to the party’s coalition deal with the Scottish Greens at the latest leadership hustings.

The Johnstone hustings saw a return to the more collegiate style of debate which was abandoned during the STV debate, but the Health Secretary took a dig at one of his rivals to replace Nicola Sturgeon.

Despite promising at the outset he would remain “relentlessly positive”, he returned to comments made during the previous night’s televised debate by Kate Forbes, who launched into scathing criticisms of his record in government and questioned his competence.

Yousaf said: “Any mudslinging, any personal attacks, they only benefit our opponents – they don’t benefit anybody else.”

But, addressing activists in the room, he said: “You’re rightly proud of the record of your SNP government – it’s not a mediocre record, it’s a record we should be proud of.

“You should be proud of the fact that we’ve abolished tuition fees, you should be proud of the fact that we have the game-changing Scottish Child Payment, you should be proud of the baby box…So the question you have to ask your yourself is: who in this contest is sounding like a first minister?

 “Who is acting like a first minister, or a leader? Who is rising above it? Who is making sure that they don’t cast aspersions on others?”

It comes after Forbes confronted him during the STV debate, saying: “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.

“What makes you think you can do a better job as first minister?”

In her opening remarks she also suggested that electing a “continuity” candidate was an “acceptance of mediocrity”.

Yousaf defended his record in government again on Wednesday night, telling SNP members that he was proud to have passed the Turing Law and stressed his commitment to challenging the UK Government’s block on Scotland’s gender recognition reforms.

And he suggested either of his opponents winning could endanger the Bute House agreement, without which, the SNP would need to run a minority government.

Ash Regan acknowledged media reports that the Greens could pull out of the deal should either she or Forbes win – but still stressed she was the candidate to unify the independence movement.

She has spoken with Alba leader Alex Salmond, Colin Fox of the Scottish Socialist Party and Tommy Sheridan, all of whom she said were “excited” about her plans to secure independence.

But Regan added she had not heard back from the Scottish Greens after reaching out to them and has said previously she would review the SNP’s deal with the smaller party should she win the election.

Forbes said she would “hold out the hand of friendship” to Scotland’s second-largest pro-Yes party but added it was up to them if they wanted to remain in coalition with the SNP if she won.

Yousaf said: “It is so, so important that whoever the next first minister is… that they are a unifier and unifying our movement and if the first act of a new first minister is to reject and rip up the agreement with the only other pro-independence party in the Scottish Parliament – that’s not unity, that’s not going to further our cause, that’s not going to help us win independence.”