NICOLA Sturgeon has been forced to deny the SNP could split in a “civil war” triggered by the party leadership contest after a senior MP said it was possible.

“I don't believe there is any prospect of the SNP splitting,” the First Minister said. 

She was speaking after SNP Westminster deputy leader Mhairi Black said a split could happen if Kate Forbes became the next first minister. 

Ms Black heavily criticised Ms Forbes early in the race after the finance secretary said she was opposed to same sex marriage in line with her devout Christian beliefs.

Speaking on The Bunker podcast, the Paisley MP has now claimed Ms Forbes’s socially conservative views have been “damaging” for the party.

Asked if Ms Forbes becoming SNP leader would split the party, Ms Black said: “Honestly I don’t know, to tell you the truth. It’s very much a wait and see what happens. 

“I wouldn’t even want to risk that, that’s why I’m backing Humza.”

READ MORE: Mhairi Black warns SNP could split if Kate Forbes becomes leader

The SNP has already split over personalities to a limited extent.

In 2021, former leader Alex Salmond set up his Alba party after falling out with Ms Sturgeon, taking many of the SNP’s supporters and activists with him.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross cited Ms Black’s comment at FMQs, plus Ms Forbes’s suggestion in Tuesday’s STV hustings that the Government’s record was “mediocre”.

He claimed the SNP was now in a “civil war”.

He said: “Kate Forbes was Nicola Sturgeon’s right-hand woman, hand-picked by the First Minister to rise rapidly through the ranks. But now she’s trashed the government’s record.

“Nicola Sturgeon might expect to hear me call her government’s record appalling, but she can’t have expected her own finance secretary to brand this SNP government mediocre.

“Nicola Sturgeon divided Scotland, now her departure is dividing the SNP. 

“Yet while the SNP goes through civil war, the real priorities of Scotland are being ignored.

“This divided and distracted party is failing to give Scots the health service they deserve.” 

Speaking to the media after FMQS, Ms Sturgeon was asked about Ms Black’s comment and whether the SNP was in a state of civil war.

She said: “No, I don’t think that. We're having a democratic election. 

“I appreciate - and this is not meant as a flippant comment - we've had a couple of deputy leadership election campaigns in the SNP in recent years, but it's almost 20 years since there's been a leadership election. People are not used to it. 

“But it's a democratic election, and that's something to be embraced. 

“I genuinely haven't seen Mhairi's comments. I don't want to comment on things that might be out of context, but I don't believe there is any prospect of the SNP splitting. 

“I think the SNP is having a democratic contest, and once that contest is decided it will get behind whoever emerges as the winner.”

READ MORE: Forbes most popular candidate in SNP leadership race with the public

Pressed on Ms Black not giving a similar, standard denial about a split, the First Minister said: “One of the wonderful things about Mhairi Black, and she's somebody I've got, you know, a lot of respect for and a huge amount of affection for… I love Mhairi Black.

“But one of her many qualities is that she just tells it as, she speaks straight.

“I've not seen [her comments] so I don't want to comment any further.

“I'll speak for myself and I think I've given you the answers, which might be predictable for you but they happen to be the answers that I am giving.”