Kate Forbes and John Swinney have reportedly held secret talks in a bid to avoid a bitter leadership contest.

The Scottish Sun said the pair had met face-to-face on Tuesday.

An insider told the paper that during the discussions, former finance secretary Ms Forbes did “not rule out” a deal where she takes a top job in a government led by Mr Swinney.

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Neither of the MSPs have officially declared their intention to stand for SNP leader, but both have said they are considering bids. 

When approached by The Herald in Holyrood on Wednesday, Mr Swinney said: “I'm obviously giving consideration to all of these issues and I'm just taking my time to do that.”

Asked about the Sun report, he replied: “I said that I'll have things to say when I've got things to say.”

A spokesman for Ms Forbes told The Times: "We can confirm Kate spoke to John yesterday. It was a purely informal meeting. Kate is continuing to weigh up whether to run and is grateful for the growing outpouring of support."

The Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP  later confirmed that she had spoken to Mr Swinney.

She said she had done similar in last year's race to give the others considering a bid then the "courtesy of telling them what I was thinking and I think that's a good position to be in on this contest."

"Now I know what you all really want to know is whether I'm running or not and here's hoping that you'll find out soon."

When asked by The Herald how soon, and if she could make an announcement tomorrow, she replied: "I'll get back to you on that."

The Herald:

Nominations are due to close at noon next Monday. If the two hopefuls can strike a deal, and no third candidate emerges, it could mean Scotland has a new First Minister within the week. 

If there is a contest, the ballot will open on 13 May and run for two weeks until 27 May.

News of the talks between Ms Forbes and Mr Swinney emerged as Humza Yousaf called for unity.

He told the BBC: “I would say to supporters of any candidate that we will gain nothing if we talk each other down.

“The only people who benefit from that are our opponents.”

He urged supporters of either potential candidate to instead “talk up” the “good attributes” of their rivals.

“Our party needs unity," he added.

The call was echoed by former first minister Nicola Sturgeon. She told journalists in Holyrood she was "actually quite enjoying not being in the thick of political drama".

“No candidates have declared for the leadership yet, so I’ll wait to see who emerges and like all SNP members I’ll make up my own mind, I’m not going to try to tell other members how to vote,” she said.

“I hope the contest is positive, I hope it is forward looking and I hope it focuses on the things the SNP needs to do to continue its very strong election streak”.

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Taking to X, the Glasgow Southside MP Stewart McDonald pleaded for his fellow SNP members to be nice to one another. He said he despaired "at how some are approaching this leadership contest."

"We’ve seen far too much elevating of the personal over the political, and in doing so we all end up being dragged down. Have we learned nothing from last year - a contest at John Curtice said cost us up to 5%," he tweeted.

"So whether you back John, Kate or neither, please let us have a debate about policy that looks forward, rather than looking backwards with a motivation to settle old scores.

"The country is watching and the party deserves so much more than a repeat of last year."