OPPOSITION politicians have claimed the party is now “openly at war with itself” after an explosive TV debate.

On Tuesday evening, Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan went head to head in an STV debate chaired by Colin Mackay.

The cross-examination section, where Forbes skewered Yousaf’s record in government, quickly went viral, with some Unionists praising Forbes for her attack. The Finance Secretary defended her “robust” tactics on Wednesday morning.

READ MORE: How feminist is Scotland? Seven key laws and policies aimed at helping women

Yousaf turned the table on Forbes during the debate, accusing her of not being able to keep Yes voters, after she claimed she was the candidate most likely to convince No voters to support independence.

He also claimed Forbes's Budget negotiations with the UK Government left Scotland short by £600m, while Regan said the SNP had “lost its way”.

After three polite party hustings, the fiery TV debate caused delight amongst the opposition who were quick to exploit divisions among the candidates.

Scots Tory leader Douglas Ross said the candidates had been fighting "like Nats in a sack and the only thing they agreed on was independence and dividing the country all over again".

Scottish Labour MSPs Jackie Baillie and Paul Sweeney were pictured grinning and holding popcorn ahead of the debate, with Baillie later telling STV she was “astonished at how bitter and vitriolic and divisive this debate has been”.

She added: “It’s extraordinary, it’s been comedy gold, if it wasn’t so serious. What we’ve seen is three candidates from the SNP leadership destroying their own party’s record in office and actually attempting to destroy each other.”

Paul O’Kane, Scottish Labour MSP, tweeted during the debate: “An extraordinary exchange between Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes on the National Care Service - Kate literally repeating what we have been saying for the past year - the Bill does not command support and needs to be completely rethought. How can SNP MSPs defend it now?”

And the Tories were also quick to jump on the issue, sending out a press release on Wednesday morning which claimed the leadership candidates are “torching each other and their party’s record in government”.

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy MSP 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.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon makes significant donation to Glasgow Women's Library

“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.”

Hoy pointed to Forbes's comments that she would have Yousaf as a minister in her Cabinet, but “maybe not in health”, and claimed both contenders were directing “vitriol” at each other.

He added: “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.”

West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Tory MP Andrew Bowie also weighed in, tweeting: “So, what Kate is saying here is...under the SNP trains didn't run on time, the police were at breaking point and in the NHS, waiting lists were still record highs.

“I mean, it's nice of them to admit what we've been accusing them of for years, just didn't expect it on live tv!”

The Majority, a Unionist campaign group who ran a series of billboards calling on Nicola Sturgeon to resign, also shared the clip of Forbes attacking Yousaf’s record on Twitter. They added: “Brought to you by the woman who is part of the same government that is responsible for each of those disasters.”

While Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton did not directly comment on the TV debate, at 10.25pm on Tuesday the party released a three minute long video telling Scottish voters they “don’t have to settle for more of the same”. Cole-Hamilton accused the SNP of being in power “too long”.