ALL three SNP leadership candidates have claimed that Scotland can be independent within five years if they are elected party leader and first minister.

Kate Forbes, Ash Regan, and Humza Yousaf all made the pledge during the BBC’s special edition of debate night, which was broadcast on Tuesday evening.

The final televised debate of the SNP leadership race, the BBC debate took place in front of a live audience, who asked questions of the candidates. The three were also allowed to ask each of their rivals one question, while host Stephen Jardine pitched in on occasion.

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Towards the end of the broadcast, the three contenders were asked: “If you’re first minister, will Scotland be independent in the next five years?”

Yousaf, responding first, said: “I believe it can be and I would want to be the one who delivers independence, but to do that we’ve got to stop talking about process and talk about policy. We’ve got to inspire people with a vision for independence.”

The Health Secretary said the SNP should not be “obsessing” over issues the public does not care about such as de facto referendums.

“Yes, I believe we will be [independent in the next five years],” Yousaf closed, “but only if we build the consistent majority for independence.”

Next, Forbes said a clear “yes” to whether Scotland would leave the UK within five years. She went on to argue a similar case to Yousaf, namely that the focus should be on dealing with the issues which impact on people’s lives and that support for independence would rise as a result.

The National: Kate Forbes took aim at the record of her rival in the SNP leadership race (Jane Barlow/PA)

Forbes said: “If you look at the issues that people are concerned about, let’s take the cost of living crisis, the fact that people can’t afford next month’s energy bill. In a country that is rich in energy in terms of oil and gas, in terms of our renewables, that doesn’t stack up. It doesn’t stack up because the decisions are being made far, far away from those that are most affected.”

Regan also said that “Scotland will become independent in the next five years” if she is elected first minister. She, like her rivals, said that the SNP should not “obsess about referendums” but instead “focus on governing”.

Regan argued that a focus on good governance combined with her plan to run every Holyrood and Westminster election as a de facto independence vote would see Scotland leave the UK by 2028.

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The three candidates were also asked on what they should be judged if they were to become Scotland’s next first minister.

Forbes and Yousaf both answered poverty, while Regan said she would want to be judged on the performance of the NHS.

The three candidates’ pledges came after one audience member spoke against the Scottish Government’s record on education, without ever actually asking a question.

The audience member said he would “absolutely not” be persuaded by anything any of the SNP candidates said after he was cut off by host Stephen Jardine.

The BBC audience was made up of people “from all walks of life with differing political views”, Jardine said at the show’s start.

Elsewhere in the show, there was a clash between Yousaf and Forbes after the former accused the Finance Secretary of being right-wing for wanting to pause the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS).

Due to come into effect on August 16, the DRS will add 20p onto the cost of recyclable containers such as bottles and cans, which will be refunded when the container is returned.

Forbes and Regan have both advocated for a pause of the DRS, but Yousaf claimed that would be “letting big business off the hook”. INstead, he has pitched an early-stage exemption from the scheme for small businesses.

In an exchange which saw the two Cabinet Secretaries talk over one another, Forbes said: “I think it’s perfectly progressive to represent small businesses, because small businesses are indeed the backbone of our Scottish economy.

“That is not a lurch to the right, that is pretty desperate spin.”

Yousaf said: “I think you’re appealing to big business by letting them off the hook in a really important scheme, because climate is so important to all of us.”

The National: Isla Bryson

The Health Secretary also clashed with Regan after she raised the case of rapist Isla Bryson (above), who was held in isolation in a women's prison after claiming to be transgender.

Regan, who quit the SNP government over gender reform, pushed Yousaf on whether Bryson was a woman.

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.”