Humza Yousaf has rejected claims that high-profile endorsements within the SNP are proof he is worried about losing the party’s leadership contest.
Over the weekend, deputy first minister John Swinney and SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn both announced their support for the health secretary to succeed Nicola Sturgeon.
It led to accusations from Kate Forbes’ campaign that the announcement showed the party was “absolutely panicking”.
Yousaf rejected these claims, saying it was a “sign of strength” that he had been backed by “stalwarts” of the movement.
Polling last week suggested that support for Forbes’ was ahead of Yousaf with the general public and neck and neck between SNP members.
The Ipsos survey, released last week on behalf of Channel 4 News, found 32% of the Scottish public thought Forbes would make a good First Minister.
Yousaf was in second with 24% while Ash Regan lagged well behind with 8%.
Between SNP voters, with 33% backed Yousaf while 32% showed support for Forbes.
Following the polling, Flynn and Swinney announced their support for Yousaf to replace Sturgeon as First Minister.
On Saturday, MSP Michelle Thomson, who is managing the finance secretary’s campaign, questioned the timing of the move by the leading SNP politicians, branding it a “cynical 11th hour intervention”.
But Yousaf rejected that claim, saying the endorsements showed the momentum in the race was behind him.
He told STV News political editor Colin Mackay: “It’s a sign of strength that my vision, what I am proposing to do, not just for our party or movement but also our country, is attracting stalwarts, giants of our movement like John Swinney.
“In fact, we are here in Stirling, of course. Bruce Crawford, a pillar of our movement, the fact they are supporting me shows very clearly where the momentum is.”
Yousaf said if elected First Minister he would “build on the legacy” of Sturgeon and Alex Salmond to gain independence.
Speaking in Stirling on the day voting gets under way, the health secretary said he would achieve that by gaining sustained majority support for a Yes vote.
He said: “You get that those political obstacles put up by Westminster they disappear, we know that from the Scottish Parliament, that’s how we got our Scottish Parliament.
“We’ve got to create that consistent majority and I’ve got the progressive vision that’s going to bring more people towards our cause.”
He continued: “What is interesting of course is that we are not starting from base zero.
“We are already at 50/50. We just have to make sure we get over that tipping point and we get that consistent majority for Scottish independence.”
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