KATE Forbes has suggested she would only continue the deal the SNP has with the Scottish Greens if the smaller party commits to economic prosperity.

While the tone of last night's debate was considerably calmer than the TV exchanges on Tuesday night a clear difference emerged among the candidates on the future of the Bute House Agreement signed in 2021.

Ms Forbes, the finance secretary, underlined her vision of growing Scotland's prosperity in order to reduce poverty but doubted whether the Greens, who do not support the principle of economic growth, would share her outlook of putting the economy "front and centre".

She said she "had no doubt as to the challenges of minority government" and pointed out she had worked with the Greens in the past in budget negotiations during the last parliament when the SNP governed without a majority.

But she added: "In this election I really think we need to get to grips with economic prosperity. So obviously when it came to the Bute House Agreement, one of the areas that was excluded was on the economy. 

READ MORE: No now nine points ahead of Yes in new independence poll

"So I think there would need to be a conversation. I'm willing to work with the Greens and the question for them is would they be willing to work with me when it came to putting that economic prosperity front and centre because I think it is the only way that we can eradicate poverty?"

She added: "The only way we can eradicate poverty is through the creation of well paid secure jobs and raising the funding to reinvest in our public services.

"So for me that economic prosperity point is non negotiable because it is so fundamental to our agenda as a government. I would put my hand out to work with them but it is up to them if they could work with me."

In contrast, health secretary Humza Yousaf said the party must "make sure" it continued with the Bute House Agreement and warned of what he believed to be the impact of the deal falling apart.

He pointed out it would mean the end of the pro independence majority in parliament and difficulties in securing backing from other parties, such as Douglas Ross's Conservatives or Anas Sarwar's Labour, to get government legislation passed.

"If the first act of the new First Minister is to reject and rip up the agreement with the only other pro independence party in the Scottish Parliament. That's not unity. That's not going to further our cause. That's not going to help us when independence,"  he said.

"I have taken more bills through the parliament than a lot of other ministers in my ten and a half years in government and of course I know what it's like to work in minority government but I tell you now the political culture of this parliament is the most toxic I have ever seen it. And if we do not have that pro independence majority every single day will be a fight to get our legislative programme [through].

"Good governance becomes more difficult if you are trying to cut a deal with Douglas Ross or Anas Sarwar as opposed to our friends who share many common principles including independence in the Greens."

He added: "Our pro independence majority in the parliament. If that is the first act, is to rip that up, then we don't only become ungovernable, we become unelectable."

Ash Regan, the former community safety minister, took a strong position against the deal continuing.

"I'm not prepared to sign up to a coalition, at any cost. You know, I think coalitions can be good and they can work, but not at any cost at all. So, I'm not afraid of operating in a minority government if it comes to that, I'd be up for that challenge," she said.

The Herald:

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, centre, with Scottish Greens co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, after the Bute House Agreement was signed in August 2021. Photo PA.

Earlier in the contest some figures in the Scottish Greens raised concerns whether their party would continue with the Bute House Agreement if either Ms Forbes or Ms Regan became SNP leader. 

Opposition centres on both politicians' stances on the Gender Reform Recognition Bill with Ms Regan against pursuing a legal case against the UK Government over blocking the legislation from gaining royal assent, while Ms Forbes has said she would prefer to reach a compromise over it.

At tonight's hustings she said the Scottish Government should look at the legal advice it had received over the matter and if the legal advice was that it was unlikely to win, then the action should not be proceeded with. She added: "And I think we can fix it on a cross party basis."

READ MORE: Forbes stands by Yousaf criticism, saying SNP needs leader with 'guts'

Earlier the three contenders appealed for party unity after extraordinary heated personal exchanges in Tuesday's STV debate.

Mr Yousaf, Ms Forbes and Ms Regan all attempted to strike a more positive tone in the latest hustings which took place in Johnstone and was chaired by former health secretary Jeane Freeman.

On Tuesday night Ms Forbes openly attacked Mr Yousaf's record as a minister and even suggested she may not reappoint him to his health role if she became First Minster.

Mr Yousaf in turn accused Ms Forbes of having “left us about £600 million short” in budget talks with Rishi Sunak when he was chancellor, and claimed she planned to drag the SNP to the right.

But tonight the health secretary said in his opening speech that he was "going to be relentlessly positive" and said any "mudslinging" and "personal attacks" would only benefit the party's opponents. However, he nevertheless appeared to made a dig at Ms Forbes who on Tuesday's debate suggested the current government's record was "mediocre".

He added: "Let me make a promise and absolute pledge. And you hold me to account for that pledge that I will not be saying anything negative about any other candidates."

READ MORE: Yousaf criticises Cherry over sharing of 'abhorrent' Twitter post

He went on to say that party members were "rightly proud" of the SNP's record in government.

"It's not mediocre record. It's a record we should be proud of. You should be proud of the fact that we have abolished tuition fees, you should be proud of the fact that we have the game changing Scottish child payment.

"You should be proud of the baby box. You should be proud of the personal and nursing care. You should be proud of the fact that every single turn we have the most vulnerable and the poorest. First, you should be proud of the legacy of Nicola Sturgeon because she has done an incredible job for our movement for our party and for our country," he said.

Ms Forbes also underlined a message of unity, adding that it did not mean "uniformity".

She told party members: "The SNP has always been successful when we were united, but unity is not uniformity. And in this election contest I think it's an opportunity to get back to thinking about what steps are required to get to independence, because this election contest is about independence, it's about who's best equipped and who has the best plan to get us to independence and independence is not an end in and of itself. "

READ MORE: Greens may exit SNP deal if Kate Forbes becomes FM prompting election

She added: "We are united, whilst creating the space to debate and discuss. And the last thing I'll say before I stop, is it will only get there together. What a team what a family. And my friends and colleagues on this platform have great talents. Each one of our members bring talent and skill as party members."

Ms Regan added: "I think we need to heal the rifts in our own party. I think we have had some divisions recently and I think we also need to reach out and unite and inspire the wider independence movement because I believe that it's only as a group, you know that really large group, right across Scotland, acting as one that we will be able to make that really strong case."

During the debate the candidates were quizzed by party members on their plans to achieve independence and on their commitment to LGBT rights.

They were also pressed on a legal challenge to the UK Government over its block to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill and asked for their views on council tax reform and relations with local government.

Pressed on her opposition to same sex marriage - which drew considerable criticism from senior SNP politicians at the start of the contest - Ms Forbes told the audience: "I've given a very solemn and honest pledge that I will uphold the legal rights and the legal protections for every single Scot."

Mr Yousaf restated that he would not his Muslim faith as basis for legislation.