Kate Forbes has been accused of lying about responding to a letter on abortion rights - but one of her allies has taken the blame for it.
Campaign group Back Off Scotland claimed that Forbes lied on Thursday's Channel 4 debate that she had responded to their letter on abortion rights.
But Forbes's campaign manager and Falkirk East MSP Michelle Thomson said Forbes "signed off the response" and it was her fault the letter wasn't sent until after the leadership candidate mentioned it in the debate.
Forbes is up against Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and backbencher Ash Regan in the race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader and First Minister.
Her campaign had a bumpy start due to her socially conservative positions like opposition to gay marriage and having children out of wedlock.
Back Off Scotland is campaigning for harassment-free buffer zones around abortion clinics in Scotland.
Forbes made an anti-abortion statement in 2018 but said last month that she doesn't "think that women going for an abortion should be subjected to fear and harassment."
Humza Yousaf said to Forbes during the debate that Back Off Scotland had told him that she hadn't got back to them.
He said: "Back Off Scotland... tell me that you haven't responded back to their letter from a few days ago."
Forbes interrupted him and said: "Which is not true, because I have [responded]."
Back Off Scotland then tweeted that she was not telling the truth.
They said: "Kate Forbes has just lied on national TV in response to Humza Yousaf.
"She has not responded to our letter."
The group then tweeted that one of Forbes' staff members replied to them after she had said she had already written back to them on Channel 4.
They said: "You couldn't write this! Kate Forbes staffer has now replied to us ten minutes after his boss lied on national TV."
But Thomson then said that Forbes had actually signed off on a response and that it was due to Thomson's error that it wasn't sent off earlier.
She said: "I can confirm that Kate signed off the response and it was my error that it wasn’t sent until this evening.
"She spoke entirely in good faith as she always does."
Yousaf put pressure on Forbes over her views on abortion as a Bill is set to be introduced at Holyrood that would introduce buffer zones outside abortion clinics.
Forbes has repeatedly said she would support the principle of the legislation which has been proposed by Green MSP Gillian Mackay. But she refused to say if she felt abortion was morally wrong during the Channel 4 debate.
Yousaf said that Forbes had been vague.
He said: "When Kate was asked this question (about her support for buffer zones) the other day at a hustings, you said ‘with balance’."
“What I didn’t understand is what you mean by that balance?”
He added: “I think it’s right to ask what do you mean by that balance, would you allow, for example, prayer vigils?”
Forbes responded: “This is an example where we see another candidate trying to poke holes and trying to erode the honest and solemn commitments I have made.
“It boils down to a question of honesty – does Humza accept my word when I say that I will uphold those legal protections and support buffer zones or not?”
Yousaf said that the question had actually been asked by Back Off Scotland.
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