Scotland’s constitution secretary has announced he is backing Humza Yousaf to become the next leader of the SNP.
Angus Robertson said he is in “no doubt” the Scottish health secretary is the right person for the job.
Robertson, who was previously suggested to be a potential replacement for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, cited Yousaf’s willingness to “take on the Tories and protect Holyrood from their dirty tricks”.
Yousaf is the only candidate who has vowed to take the UK Government to court over its use of a Section 35 order to block Scotland’s gender reform bill.
Opponents Kate Forbes and Ash Regan have different views on challenging the UK Government’s decision through the Supreme Court.
However Robertson said: “As a party, we simply cannot stand aside and let the Westminster establishment trample over the democratic will of Scotland’s Parliament.”
The Edinburgh Central MSP said Yousaf is the “only candidate” who would stop the UK Government’s “power grabs on the devolution settlement”.
He added: “In times like these we need a strong leader who will unite, not divide, our Yes movement as we get ready for the campaign that lies ahead. Humza is that leader.
“As first minister, I know Humza will stand up and celebrate those who we serve and build on the progressive agenda of the SNP that has won our party so much support over the years.”
Robertson is one of the highest-profile MSPs to back Yousaf and is one of a handful of current cabinet ministers to do so.
He also cited the party’s power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens as a reason he backed Yousaf, insisting it was “absolutely vital that we leave no chinks in the armour and maintain our pro-independence majority in Holyrood now, and into the future”.
He added: “We cannot allow our relationship with our colleagues in the Green Party to break down ahead of the fight of our lives in a fresh referendum on independence.
“We need our independence and we need to rejoin the European Union where Scotland belongs to reap the rewards of freedom of movement, financial investment and access to a European single market.
“That is absolutely vital if we are to ensure Scotland can become the fairer, prosperous and more equal nation we know it can be.”
The Scottish Greens have signalled they may end their deal with the SNP if Forbes is elected following her admission she would have voted against equal marriage in 2014 if she was an MSP.
Meanwhile, Regan said she was “not afraid” of leaving the Bute House agreement formed with the Scottish Greens.
Regan quit the Scottish Government in opposition to its gender reform legislation, which is seen as a red line for the Greens.
Who is backing who in the SNP leadership race?
Joanna Cherry MP
Ivan McKee MSP, (business minister)
Fergus Ewing MSP
Michelle Thomson MSP
Jim Fairlie MSP
Alex Neil, (former SNP MSP)
Angus Robertson MSP, (secretary for constitution, external affairs and culture)
Maree Todd MSP, (public health minister)
Jenny Gilruth MSP, (transport minister)
Mairi McAllan MSP, (environment minister)
Ben Macpherson MSP, (social security minister)
Michael Matheson MSP, (energy secretary)
Graeme Dey MSP
Jenni Minto MSP
Joe FitzPatrick MSP
Karen Adam MSP
Neil Gray MSP
Emma Harper MSP
Pete Wishart MP
Owen Thompson MP
Chris Stephens MP
Anum Qaisar MP
Chris Law MP
Anne McLaughlin MP
Alison Thewliss MP
Tommy Sheppard MP
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