KATE Forbes smiles like a shark. Say what you will about the woman - and hasn't everyone been doing just that - she's cool under pressure.

While the SNP leadership challenge has so far proven divisive, surely the one uniting element is a shared relief from most viewers that someone else is willing to endure the fight. Who would want this job for a living?

Forbes, though, she's not just willing to endure the fight - she seems to be having a very nice time, leaning lightly on the lectern and letting Ash Regan read her lines, letting Humza Yousaf do his jabby fist point.

The ins and outs of policy; the faith-based positions; the trashing and the scrapping - these have all been scrutinised forensically over the past few days. They are being scrutinised again as Channel 4 hosts the first UK-wide SNP leadership hustings of the challenge.

READ MORE: SNP leadership debate is no time for Humza Yousaf to question abortion

We're in Glasgow's Maryhill, in The Engine Works, a Victorian warehouse-turned-event space that once produced steam engines for ships.

It's the sort of history of which the SNP is proud - Scots industrial ingenuity, forged on the banks of the Maryhill canal then floated along the water and out to the seven seas.

Behind the scenes, the present day reality is less romantic and certainly less creative. Following the live televised debate, the three candidates are brought through to be given a short turn each in front of the gathered press pack.

Questions and move on, questions and move on. It's sexless speed dating with fewer laughs and only arguably more importance.

After all this slugging it out, after all this public acrimony, a question has been repeatedly asked: how does the SNP unify behind a new first minister? Fears of irreparable rifts between the three may be greatly exaggerated, at least if Forbes and Yousaf's obvious mutual respect when the cameras stop rolling is anything to go by.

Forbes, first up, responds easily to the question of what she views as her opponents' strengths. She and Yousaf, she says, are "very pally" and " hang about chatting, chatting about all sorts of things." They've both brought their families on the road with them and the two groups are "getting on like a house on fire".

"It couldn't be further from the truth that there is no respect," the finance secretary says. "There is that respect.

"Humza has an incredible ability to connect with people. He's been up in my constituency dealing with really challenging health matters and he goes into a room that's feeling hostile and he leaves having made friends with them all.

"He can connect with anyone, he can win over friends even in the most difficult circumstances."

READ MORE: Kate Forbes asks questions about family and faith in politics

Forbes makes no hesitation in highlighting what she sees as Regan's positive attributes too. "Ash is very determined, knows her mind and won't back down until she delivers.

"She's also just really fun, she's a good laugh and I get on with her really well."

Regan may be really fun when the cameras aren't rolling but she lacks the nimbleness of thought needed to pay her peers a compliment. Go on, I urge her. What are the good bits about Yousaf and Forbes?  

"Humza seems to have a lot of support from some of the elected members so I guess that he has a ready made team there ready to go," she says. Great, good. Oh, but then she adds: "I've seen some quotes from people in the media saying they would have difficulty serving under Kate so she has a little bit more work to do to bring people back together there."

We're trying for compliments, Ash. Ok, try again. "Kate, I think, is hard working and clever," Regan adds. There's more: "Kate and I are friends, Humza and I are colleagues." Ooft.

So does Yousaf have anything complimentary to say about his two opponents? I put the question: what are his opponents’ strengths? "You're bad," Yousaf replies. "You're very bad,” he says in a tone implying I’ve been a naughty girl.

In tonight's debate a truce has been decided; the pugilism of Tuesday's STV hustings is left behind and the rough winds of dispute have becalmed. This is despite the best efforts of our host for the evening, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, who is trying to inject adrenaline in the veins of the thing. Early in proceedings he looks Yousaf right in the eyes as he starts a point with "You’re fantastically unpopular”.

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He was enjoying himself, Guru-Murthy, loving the artifice of it all. "You're fantastically unpopular," is bad. I just want to know what Yousaf likes about his rivals, especially as he's failed to keep his own word and has been the most aggressive candidate tonight. At one point he accused Forbes of dishonesty. Though he does, kindly, explain to Regan during the ad break who Gary Lineker is and why he's in trouble with the BBC. 

We get there in the end. "Kate is immensely capable," he says. "I will never forget the budget of 2020 where she came in probably with 10 hours notice, maybe less, and we were all downhearted in the SNP because of the circumstances and she blew the opposition to smithereens and it really lifted our spirits.

"So there is no doubt Kate is immensely capable." And Regan?

Yousaf does not hesitate: "Ash, she's straight talking in a time when some politicians - not me, of course, but some politicians - may waffle and perhaps not be as unequivocal in their statements.

"She is very straight talking and pretty determined too."

If you're going to be accused of being bad, you may as well really be bad. Yousaf has consistently positioned himself as a defender of abortion rights in this campaign. During tonight's hustings he mentioned again his pledge to expand universal free childcare to "help women back to the workforce". He's sourced a letter of support from women SNP members.

Is it not audacious in a campaign against two female politicians to position yourself as the knight in shining armour of Scotland's women?

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"I get asked what my position is on issues of importance to women and I'm going to be unequivocal that I am a feminist," Yousaf said. "Other people have to state their positions unequivocally too."

Is Forbes not fed up of being lectured to on women's rights?  

"I think I have answered more questions on abortion than anybody else has, perhaps in their lifetime," she said, adding that women "see through" Yousaf's politicking on women's issues.

Forbes added: "I am a young woman, I understand perfectly the importance of bodily autonomy. I have a young daughter.

"I know what it means to grow up as a young woman in Scotland and I think there are very few young women who have not had an experience of harassment, of prejudice in various forms so I absolutely believe in valuing and supporting equality within the legislative frameworks for women.

"Nicola Sturgeon was exceptional because she gave opportunities to young women, she was a role model for young women and she displayed what it meant to be a forthright woman in a man's world and women can stand up for themselves." Indeed, they can. 

The question now is who’s bad and who’s good, a question voters may be no clearer in answering following this hustings’s gentler go-round on the same old topics.