Savage SNP infighting can't hide the fact that they're all 'continuity' candidates – John McLellan

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SNP leadership hopeful Humza Yousaf is at pains to claim he’s no continuity candidate, but after an astonishing televised hustings on Tuesday, it’s hard to know how much of his predecessor’s legacy will be left to maintain.

With the three candidates ripping into each other live on STV, particularly Kate Forbes’ condemnation of her own administration’s mediocrity, the illusion of SNP unity has been publicly shattered. She tore into Mr Yousaf’s record in transport, justice and now health, even to the jaw-dropping extent of suggesting he should be removed from his current post. In turn, he laid into her social and moral views as being incompatible with leadership of the modern SNP, and despite attempts to appear all pals at the end, it seems they just don’t like each other.

Ash Regan may yet surprise everyone through second preference votes and by appealing to the impatient new members who flocked to the party around the 2014 referendum, but appears to be making it up as she goes along. She’s even claimed South Scotland doesn’t vote SNP because it gets its news from ITV Borders instead of STV, and she’s so popular in her Edinburgh Eastern backyard that her MP colleague Tommy Sheppard backs Mr Yousaf and local councillor Kate Campbell wanted to replace her in the Scottish Parliament.

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One candidate could split the party and the other could split the sides of the wider electorate so, from that perspective, Mr Yousaf does emerge as the candidate most likely to offer SNP members the stability to which they have become accustomed. Wedded to the Green alliance and with most of the hierarchy behind him, Mr Yousaf strains credibility to claim he’s not the SNP establishment’s choice, especially as the chief defender of Ms Sturgeon’s Golgotha, the gender recognition reforms.

However, he is also promising to pause and adjust the kamikaze deposit return scheme, call time on the equally damaging plans for an alcohol advertising ban and review his own cripplingly expensive National Care Service plan, so Ms Sturgeon’s “my way or the highway” approach looks on the way out. The absolutism of her regime, in which any expression of concern or compromise was tantamount to treason, is being blown away as the candidates collectively wave the white flag over one policy battleground after another.

Doubt simply wasn’t supposed to be in the SNP playbook, but it is the acceptance from both Ms Forbes and Mr Yousaf that the confrontational independence strategy hasn’t worked which signals the biggest change. Building sustained majority support through competent government and economic management sounds like common sense to most people, but that it feels refreshing after the experience of the last five years is even more remarkable.

Much nonsense has been talked about who unionists fear or prefer, and the truth is that basic competence would be good for everyone. But while independence remains the priority, they are all continuity candidates.

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With Ms Sturgeon gone, maybe it will drive more ultras towards Alex Salmond’s Alba, but that would just widen the opportunity for unionists at the next general election. Who then would bet against some of the well-known SNP faces who chose to sit out this contest re-entering the fray as the great saviour if this month’s winner turns out to be a vote loser?

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