KATE Forbes has said she is the SNP leadership candidate best placed to take on Labour's Keir Starmer who is "spoiling for a fight". 

The finance secretary has been presenting herself during the campaign as the politician who is most able to achieve independence by winning over pro-Union voters.

However, rival candidate Humza Yousaf has argued her views on social issues - she admitted early in the contest that had she been an MSP in 2014 she would have voted against same sex marriage - would put off more liberally minded Scots to back the Yes case and that members should back him to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader and First Minister.

During the latest party hustings today at Strathclyde University, in Glasgow, Ms Forbes noted that the party was at a crossroads over the independence campaign and also remarked on a visit to Scotland by the Labour leader yesterday.

"The question at this crossroads is how do we get there and who can take us there. And I think there's three things that we need from a leader to take us there," she said.

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"The first...is someone who can take on the opposition. We know we don't like it, but we know that Keir Starmer was here yesterday. He's spoiling for a fight. 

"We need to take on the opposition. And we need to win by maintaining the trust of the Scottish people and delivering for them. So we need someone who can take on the opposition and continue to win elections. Secondly, we need somebody who can reach out to new voters and persuade them to vote yes, I can. I know we can do it because I believe in the case for independence." 

A poll published on Thursday by Channel 4 News and Ipsos showed while Mr Yousaf was narrowly ahead of Ms Forbes among SNP members, Ms Forbes was the public's preferred choice.

Almost one in three people (32 per cent) named her as the best FM. Around one quarter (24 per cent) said Mr Yousaf was their choice, while fewer than one in ten (eight per cent) selected Ms Regan.

This afternoon's debate - the first of two hustings today before voting opens in the race on Monday - saw candidates asked about a wide range of issues including how to achieve independence, relations with local government, commitment to progressive values and the education attainment gap.

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Mr Yousaf has positioned himself as the candidate most committed to the SNP progressive agenda and the only contender who has pledged to advance legal action against the UK Government over its refusal to grant royal assent to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

"If we roll back from that progressive agenda...forget about growing support for independence, we'll lose support for independence. We'll end up losing, not just young people....We lose people right across the spectrum, who joined our party because they believe in our progressive agenda," Mr Yousaf told the hustings.

"So I want to build upon that. I can't think of any better city that demonstrates progressive values than the city of Glasgow, the city that has stood time and time again, advocating that progressive agenda and it of course used to be a Labour heartland."

He added: "If I'm First Minister, I am unequivocal in my support for progressive taxation. I think those who earn the most should pay the most in order to invest in our public services."

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He went on to say that he believed "in the well being economy" and would as First Minister bring forward a Land Reform Bill to reform land ownership in Scotland. 

Mr Yousaf and his team have attempted to portray Ms Forbes as being prepared to move away from progressive values - a claim she has strongly denied.

Speaking at the hustings today she said she was committed to being an advocate for people who had no voice, for minority groups and ensuring resources were distributed to help fight poverty. She stressed that those values had informed her work as finance secretary.

"How do we ensure that we have more funding going to taking children out of poverty?" she said.

"That's the approach I've taken to budgets to put fairness at its heart. One of the most obvious ways you've seen that is when it comes to taxation because despite the fact that we have very limited powers over taxation...we've used those powers to be more progressive."

On independence, the candidates restated positions from previous hustings with Mr Yousaf and Ms Forbes underlining a need to build support in order to gain leverage over the UK Government, while Ms Regan has emphasised her commitment to use SNP elections wins as a mandate to "force" the UK Government to embark on independence negotiations.