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Yousaf: It would be foolish to abandon SNP’s progressive agenda

It would be foolish to abandon the SNP’s progressive agenda because the party owes its “dizzying” success to it, Humza Yousaf has said.

The SNP leadership hopeful said he believes in a “wellbeing economy”, as he launched a key policy on expanding free childcare.

He said he will use his first budget as first minister to expand free provision to one and two-year-olds, with a goal of offering 22 hours a week throughout the year.

He also announced plans for a £25 million annual “helping hand fund” which would offer parents returning to work a £500 loan towards childcare costs.

Recently, his rivals for the top job Kate Forbes and Ash Regan have both said they would scrap or rework the Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme (DRS), which is due to begin in August.

Humza Yousaf
Humza Yousaf has set out plans to extend free childcare to younger children (PA)

During a visit to Dr Bell’s Family Centre in Leith on Tuesday, Mr Yousaf was asked if the other candidates’ policies would mean a shift to the right for the SNP.

He told the PA news agency: “I believe in a wellbeing economy. I believe of course in economic growth, but not for its own sake, in order to make sure that people’s living standards increase, to make sure we can pay people properly so they can withstand the shocks of things like the Tory cost-of-living crisis.

“I would say to any of my colleagues in the leadership race that the SNP has managed to gain support to dizzying heights because of the progressive agenda that we have.

“I think it would be foolish to abandon that.”

Three and four-year-olds can currently access up to 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare a year, which is around 30 hours a week in term time.

Humza Yousaf
Mr Yousaf set out his policy during a visit to a family centre in Leith (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Some two-year-olds are also eligible for free childcare on a means-tested basis – with around a quarter of the age cohort having this entitlement.

Mr Yousaf said an expansion of free childcare would happen on a phased basis under his leadership, initially costing around £100 million in the 2024/25 financial year.

He said the scheme would take several years to reach all one and two-year-olds but he would “accelerate” the rollout compared to current plans.

Mr Yousaf said: “Being first minister, being in government, of course is about prioritising.

Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes
Ash Regan, left, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes are contesting the SNP leadership (Jane Barlow/Andrew Milligan/PA)

“For me, childcare is a huge priority because it helps get parents back into work.

“And of course – importantly, crucially – it also boosts our economy. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

He also denied undermining circular economy minister Lorna Slater by saying small producers should be given a one-year exemption from the DRS.

Ms Slater has said she is considering such a move.

Health Secretary Mr Yousaf is up against Finance Secretary Ms Forbes and former community safety minister Ms Regan for the SNP leadership, with the winner announced on March 27.