FORMER Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman has called for her party to “grow up” as the SNP heads into its first full leadership election in almost 20 years.

Freeman, who was an SNP MSP from 2016 until she stood down in 2021, hit out at colleagues in the party engaged in “infighting” as the race to replace First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gets under way.

Key figures within the party, such as former minister Marco Biagi, have hit out at Finance Secretary Kate Forbes over her stance on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Forbes is widely touted as a frontrunner in the race to succeed Sturgeon but she has not yet declared if she intends to stand.

Former SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has also called on his colleagues to "respect each other". 

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Speaking on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show, Freeman said: “The first thing I’d say is to my colleagues in the SNP, and I’d say to them: could you grow up?

“It’s not about you, it’s about the job that you were elected to do or the job that your party asks you to do.

“You will convince nobody, you will persuade nobody, you will achieve nothing by taking lumps out of each other.

“There is a big difference between respectful argument and listening to what other people say and personal attacks and hyperbole.

“If we don’t know by now that a party that appears to be fighting among itself is a party that won’t get support, that doesn’t actually deserve it, then I don’t know what else we need to do to learn that lesson.

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“We see it all around us, we’ve seen it in some of the circumstances where we have secured electoral victory by not being like that.

“It is beyond my understanding why people are choosing to be so self-indulgent.”

Freeman has not yet given her backing to any candidate in the election.

Host Martin Geissler also asked Blackford on the show if the race to replace Sturgeon was about to become a “dirty fight”.

He cited debates over how to achieve independence and gender legislation as examples of division within the party.

Blackford told the BBC: “I think the First Minister leaves a very strong legacy, very strong foundations both for the party and for the independence argument.

“My message to those that are going to be candidates is to respect each other, respect the party, respect the public.”

The National: Ian Blackford called on his colleagues to respect each other during the leadership contestIan Blackford called on his colleagues to respect each other during the leadership contest (Image: PA)

Candidates have until Friday to receive more than the threshold of 100 nominations from at least 20 local branches.

Geissler mentioned the likes of Kate Forbes, Angus Robertson, Ash Regan, Keith Brown and Humza Yousaf were in the mix to replace Sturgeon - with only Yousaf and Regan having declared they are running officially.

Blackford said: "You’ve talked about some of the people that could be there. They’re all colleagues and in most cases they’re friends.”

The host then asked if this was the SNP’s “yellow on yellow” moment to which Blackford replied there were people who had said things they “probably shouldn’t have said” but that this did not include many of the potential candidates.

"I would not lay the charge with some of the people you’re talking about, Humza, Kate, Angus, Keith Brown and so on. They are exemplary figures," said Blackford.

“They will show leadership, they will show passion and they will set out the stall that they will all have.

“I know each and every one of those will do that in a respectful manner and I’m sure at the end of this period, the party will be proud of the process that they’ve gone through.”