AN unrepentant Kate Forbes has refused to tone down her criticism of rivals in the SNP leadership race after a brutal hustings that shocked and dismayed some party members.

She said the party needed someone with “guts” to speak the truth, not more of the same.

Speaking at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, she also said she was opposed to the ban on alcohol advertising being consulted on by the Scottish Government.

She said the £6billion whisky industry needed a “breathing space” after Brexit and Covid, not burdensome regulation.

READ MORE: Forbes savages Yousaf's record in first TV hustings of SNP leadership

The Finance Secretary attacked Humza Yousaf’s record mercilessly in the STV hustings last night, suggesting he had failed as a minister at transport, justice and now health.

Pete Wishart, the longest serving SNP MP said the event was "thoroughly dispiriting", tweeting: "The whole party deserves so much better than this".

Former Glasgow councillor Mhairi Hunter, a former long term constituency aide to Nicola Sturgeon and a supporter of Mr Yousaf tweeted: "What the actual f*** is a serving Cabinet Secretary doing using opposition hit lines against a colleague? I did not have this on my bingo card I must say."

However SNP MP Joanna Cherry KC, a supporter of Ash Regan, said those lamenting "yellow on yellow action" should ask themselves how things came to this point.

"The lid has been taken off years of stifled debate on policy & strategy. Yes, it doesn’t look pretty. But what’s the alternative? Another coronation?," she wrote on Twitter.

Asked if she regretted her approach, Ms Forbes refused to back down, saying the SNP was “big enough and brave enough” for a robust and honest debate that included the competence of the three candidates. 

She said: “This is an election contest to be the next First Minister. And I think the public and SNP members want to see somebody who has got the guts to recognise what needs to change, and also recognises the fact that we need to have a plan to deliver. 

“And last night was all about having the candour and the honesty, to say that more of the same isn't what Scotland needs. 

“We actually do need change, but secondly, it was about competence. 

“And if any SNP leader and future First Minister is going to be taking on the Tories in Westminster, for example, then they need to have the mettle and they need to have the courage to do that, and I think that was what was on display last night.”

Asked about SNP activists who now had to sell the party on the doorstep after she had criticised her own government’s record, she said: “The SNP has a proud track record, a strong track record, which activists have been selling on the doors.

“I'm an activist myself, and I have knocked on doors and persuaded people to vote SNP on the back of our record.

“But we need to look to the future and determine how to lead Scotland into the next decade. 

“And to do that we need to focus anew on a growing prosperous economy, on eradicating poverty, and investing in our public services, and more of the same won’t cut it.

“We do need an honest and grown up debate, and I think the SNP is big enough and brave enough to have that adult debate about what the future holds.”

READ MORE: Kate Forbes sounds a whole lot like New Labour

However she also insisted the debate had been, and would continue to be, “positive”.

She said: “But I also think that we need to have an honest conversation about where the party and the Government go next. 

“So whilst we are proud of the record of the last 15 years, in order to be in office for the next 15 years, we absolutely need to look at who has the competence, who has the track record of delivery, and who can stand up for Scotland.

“And that's where I think the public and the party are looking for somebody with guts.”

Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy said the SNP was now “openly at war with itself” after Ms Forbes, Mr Yousaf and Ash Regan traded insults. 

He said: “We all knew the SNP was split down the middle but last night’s vicious debate laid bare the true scale of the mutual loathing between the different factions.

“The candidates spent the debate torching each other and their party’s record in government. Given they all are – or were – integral to that government, they were also, effectively, setting fire to themselves.

“Kate Forbes said she’d not have Humza Yousaf as health secretary if she was victorious, but it’s almost impossible to envisage either of them serving in the other’s cabinet, such was the extent of the vitriol they directed at each other. 

“The SNP is openly at war with itself. But it’s ordinary Scots who are suffering as senior figures in the Scottish Government neglect the day job to kick lumps out of rival factions in their own party.

“But even when this brutal contest is over, they won’t be able to return to the people’s priorities, because it’s clear a shared obsession with pushing independence is the only thing they agree on.”