HUMZA Yousaf has insisted he will keep his campaign positive despite the surprise trashing of his record in government by rivals during an angry TV debate.
The Health Secretary also warned that the criticism of Nicola Sturgeon’s administration would harm the SNP and the wider independence movement.
During the scrappy STV hustings on Tuesday, Kate Forbes effectively called her rival a “mediocrity.”
She then asked Mr Yousaf why he would succeed as first minister when he had failed in all his other government jobs.
Asked about the negative nature of the attacks from his cabinet colleague, Mr Yousaf insisted his campaign would remain upbeat.
Speaking to journalists during a meeting with activists in Irvine, he said: “When anybody goes low, we will make sure we go high. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do, a positive vision.
“What I would say to anybody is that I’m very proud of the track record of our government. It’s delivered us election victory after election victory.
“It has grown our support, and anybody that trashes that record, especially those that belong in government, I think does a disservice to our activists.
“Our members, having spoken to them, there’s a lot of hurt from them about one of our own trashing that record. So I’d be very, very careful.
“And I would say to any candidate, let’s keep it positive. And because the SNP has delivered so much for so many people, that’s why our support is so high.”
He said the party members he had spoken to after last night were not angry about the criticism from Mr Forbes, but rather they were “hurt”.
“Activists like the ones I’m meeting today, they knock their pan in, cold days, rainy days, trying to get those soggy leaflets through the door. It’s tough. It’s graft that they put in.
“And they’ve been doing that on the back of our track record, which has won us so much support.
“That’s why anybody who’s trashing it is effectively trashing the efforts of our activtsts. And that’s why – if my phone messages are anything to go by since last night – there’s so much hurt there.”
The Health Secretary said he was up for being challenged, but he was “just not going to make it personal despite anybody trying to make it so.”
“But also if you are part of a government, if you have been part of the delivery of the record of that government, to then completely disown it, and to trash it and to call it mediocre, I think that is seriously damaging to not just the party, but even that individual has to really think long and hard about what they’re doing to movement.”
He disagreed with The Herald’s suggestion that the debate had been “brutal.”
“I think brutal’s a bit sensationalist,” he said. “It’s one debate. It was lively, but whatever happens, I’m going to get behind whoever the leader is.
“I hope it’s me. I’m in the contest. I’m doing well. We’ve got lots of momentum, lots of support, particularly after last night I have to say, but whoever the leader is I’m pretty confident the party will unite around that individual.”
Nevertheless, he declined to say if he would accept a post in Ms Forbes’ cabinet if she was to win.
“We’ll have that conversation at the time. I’m in it to win it. I’m pretty confident. I’m hopeful. Long way to go but there’s a lot of support out there. Again, particularly after last night’s debate. So I’m thinking about this campaign, the next few days ahead, and let’s see where it takes us.”
The three candidates will face off again tonight at an internal party hustings in Johnstone. They will then take part in another televised debate tomorrow night on Channel 4.