THE SNP’s Trade Union Group has said that Kate Forbes seems to be putting “far more emphasis on ‘business solutions’” after she was the only party leadership candidate to fail to respond to ten key questions they put forward.

Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan’s responses to the ten questions were welcomed by the SNPTUG, the party’s largest affiliate with some 12,000 members, but the group said that whoever becomes the next SNP leader would be pressed “hard” on their policy concerns.

The ten questions covered a range of issues about present Scottish and UK Government policy. They included questions on the economy, local government finance, the role of trade unions, the care service bill, industrial disputes, UK anti-union laws, taxing big whisky profits, Scotwind, just transition to renewable energy, and port strategy.

READ MORE: Kate Forbes: I wouldn't represent 'shift to the right' as SNP leader

The questions were sent to all three candidates after they had agreed to the special trade union hustings chaired by STUC general secretary Roz Foyer and organised by the SNPTUG in association with The National.

While Regan and Yousaf have penned responses, Forbes has not “despite prompting”.

The National:

SNP TUG convener Bill Ramsay, who is also the group’s representative on the SNP NEC, said: “We are grateful that two of the three candidates took the trouble to respond to our key questions, which are major issues for trade unionists and working people across Scotland.

“What this exercise indicates is that while Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan (below) have made positive statements about the role of trade unions and their concerns, there is a lot of work still to be done on the detail.

“Kate Forbes, who did not reply in writing to us, was similarly positive about unions at our hustings, though her comments elsewhere appear to have put far more emphasis on ‘business solutions’ rather than public ownership and enterprise.”

The National: GLASGOW, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 11: SNP leadership candidates Kate Forbes (left) and Ash Regan during a SNP leadership hustings at the University of Strathclyde on March 11, 2023 in Glasgow, Scotland. Scotland's current First Minister, Nicola

In relation to the ten questions, the SNP TUG said it is pleased with the commitments of Forbes and Yousaf to pause and reconsider the National Care Service Bill so that it can be conceived as a public service designed by workers and users.

The group also welcomed Yousaf’s commitment to ensuring that “more of [our] energy future [is] in public hands, so that more of the benefit goes to the people of Scotland and there is less chance of our losing control of key strategic assets”.

However, the SNP TUG says it will be seeking clarity on what “more” means in practice, as its view is that the 35% share of Europe’s onshore and offshore renewables potential should be overwhelmingly in public ownership and control.

On the UK Government’s Strikes (Minimum Services Levels) Bill aimed at banning strike action, Yousaf also said that he will ensure that the Scottish Government “holds firm in the face of Westminster pressure and does not enforce them”.

READ MORE: These lessons must be learned from the failures of ScotWind

On ScotWind, Regan said she did not know “what is irrevocable or what can be undone”. She went on: “I would like to bring in someone who really knows how to build public ownership of energy to look at where we are and offer me all the options. We've got to get more value for Scotland out of this.”

Yousaf talked about a Scottish Government equity stake in future leasing arrangements, to “use lease income from the current leasing round to help us deliver more publicly-owned energy – wind, solar or hydro – on publicly-owned land.”

The SNP TUG said that this is “a step in the right direction” but “does not address more fundamental issues of control of Scotland’s energy future, both now and under the powers of independence which will be vital to securing public ownership”.

On radically reforming local government finance, Yousaf has pledged to “change our relationship with local government by maximising local autonomy over spending power by reducing ring fenced budgets through a new fiscal framework.”

Regan told the SNP TUG: “I don't want only to outsource them to a Citizens’ Assembly, I want to make sure that my Scottish Government is looking at the options itself and also thinking about plans. This is a sensitive area and so the Citizens' Assembly is great for making sure that whatever is decided has full public consent.”

Yousaf fell short of categorically committing to a feasibility study on developing a levy to capture a proportion of the £34 billion annual production value of whisky, only 8% of which is currently subject to any levy by the UK treasury.

Regan said she would consider such a levy, “but in a way that does not hamper smaller and independent brewers”. Both say they are open to more “revenue-generating ideas”.

Neither of the two made a specific commitment to implementing the Just Transition roadmap and jobs register proposed by the SNP TUG and supported overwhelmingly by SNP Conference in 2021. But they say they want a full strategy around Just Transition.

On freeports, Yousaf has expressed concern but backed safeguards in the Scottish Government “greenports” approach, while Regan has told the SNP TUG: “I do not have confidence at the moment that proper scrutiny [of] what is going on in these 'freeports' to prevent abuse is in place. I will make sure it is.”

The SNP TUG says that the key issue here is whether the Scottish Government has any of the necessary legal powers to enforce labour, environmental, and health and safety protections.

READ MORE: Freeports undermine devolution and should be reconsidered for Scotland

In an article for The National ahead of the leadership contest, expert Peter Henderson, who is also the SNP group leader on South Ayrshire council, outlined the damage the present approach will do to local economies, the evidence that freeports have been centres of criminality elsewhere in the world, and argued that they are essentially tax avoidance zones.

The SNP TUG said that it is not endorsing any of the candidates in the current race, but will seek constructive engagement with the new party leader to ensure that the direction of economic, industrial and energy policy – among other concerns – moves strongly in a progressive direction.

Both Regan and Yousaf also committed to work with the STUC and consider its detailed proposals on land, tax and assets – something strongly backed by SNP trade unionists.

Ramsay finished: “Humza Yousaf said at our hustings that the economically conservative Growth Commission Report approach is finished. We agree completely, and hope that anyone becoming leader of our party and first minister of Scotland will recognise the need for a bold shift towards public enterprise, intervention and ownership, rooted in strategy to securing the necessary powers through independence.”