One of the leading candidates to be the new leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) has accused its former leader, Alex Salmond, of “interfering” in the party’s leadership race.
Humza Yousaf, who is seen as the preferred candidate of party headquarters to take over from the outgoing Nicola Sturgeon as party leader and Scotland’s first minister, criticised repeated commentary from Mr Salmond, who founded the rival Alba Party in 2021 after quitting the SNP. Mr Salmond and his former protege Ms Sturgeon are now seen as political enemies.
The SNP leadership race has been riven by party infighting, principally between left-leaning minister for health Mr Yousaf and the other leading candidate, conservative-leaning finance minister Kate Forbes. The third candidate, former minister Ash Regan, is seen as being closer politically to Mr Salmond and he has praised her policy on independence, suggesting it is better than those of the other two.
When asked at a campaign event in Edinburgh on Tuesday if the “hand of Alex Salmond” has been felt in the SNP campaign, Mr Yousaf said he would “not go as far as that”.
“[But] he has decided to comment and even interfere in this election campaign. When he has, it is an important reminder that he is the leader of a rival political party. He spends most of his time, as far as I can see, talking down and attacking the SNP,” said Mr Yousaf.
He said Mr Salmond’s interventions were “unhealthy” for the SNP and “should not be entertained”.
Mr Yousaf acknowledged that the SNP was now a divided party following the leadership election, which will end when a winner is announced next Monday. In addition to bitter clashes between the front-runners, SNP headquarters has also been hit by scandal during the contest.
Ms Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, quit as party chief executive last week after it emerged journalists had been misled over the number of members who are entitled to vote in the election. Deputy first minister John Swinney has also stepped back from his role, while the SNP’s head of communications also quit after, it is understood, he was himself given misleading information that he then passed on to media.
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There is also rancour within the SNP over an ongoing police investigation into £600,000 that cannot be accounted for in party coffers.
In advance of one of the final debates of the campaign on Tuesday, a live debate with Times Radio in Edinburgh, Mr Yousaf said he would try to “reach across” party divides to bring unity if he is named Ms Sturgeon’s successor next week.
“There is no getting away from the fact that it has been a challenging selection contest. If I am the first minister and leader of the SNP, I’ll certainly be looking to reach across the divisions that are there and make sure we are united going forward.”
He denied that the leadership of the party has become a “poisoned chalice” due to plummeting membership numbers, infighting and slippage in polls of support for independence.