Humza Yousaf: I would shift independence campaign into ‘fifth gear’

Humza Yousaf has said he would shift the campaign for independence into “fifth gear” if he wins the SNP leadership, following a suggestion from a colleague that it should “go down a gear”.

Ben Macpherson, minister for social security in the Scottish Government, said it would take longer than the short or medium term for Scotland to become a successful independent country.

He wrote in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper: “Any reckless, overly disruptive path to statehood would quickly make our quality of life in Scotland poorer.

“Better to go down a gear and take the journey at a reasonably safe speed than crash trying to rush things.”

Scottish National Party leadership election
Humza Yousaf is greeted by supporter Evelyn Tweed (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Mr Yousaf, the health secretary, visited the Made in Stirling shop on Monday, where he was greeted by local MSP, and supporter, Evelyn Tweed.

With ballots being sent out to SNP members around the country, he told the PA news agency: “I’ll lead from the front as first activist, I’ll build the team that will deliver independence.

“I’ll protect our pro-independence majority in Parliament, I’ll defend our Scottish democracy from attack from Westminster power grabs.”

With polls showing more of the Scottish public favouring rival Kate Forbes to become First Minister, Mr Yousaf said he wanted to grow support for the party and independence.

Scottish National Party leadership election
Humza Yousaf was visits Creative Stirling (Andrew Milligan/PA)

He said: “I’ve managed to quadruple support amongst the public since the first polls came out but also I’m ahead when it comes to SNP members and SNP voters.

“That tells me that the party believes that my vision, a progressive agenda, is one that reflects their values.”

Asked about Mr Macpherson’s comments, he said: “I have the opposite view, I think we should be ramping up, not ramping down activity.

“If I was the first minister I’d put us into fifth gear – let alone take it down a gear.

“There’s a number of prospectus papers I would commit to publishing around the case for independence as soon as I become first minister.

“But also, on day one, we’ve got to kick start the Yes movement.”

The health secretary has said he wants to establish a consistent majority and “settled will” for independence.

He said he would not give an exact timescale for how many polls showing independence support over 50% would be needed for this to be the case, saying it will be “obvious” when the “settled will” is achieved.

At the weekend, he refused to rule out calling a snap Holyrood election in order to advance independence.

Mr Yousaf said: “I’m simply saying that we should use any means that is necessary in terms of process to advance the cause of independence, that’s within a legal framework.”

Meanwhile, leadership rival Kate Forbes said she would “fundamentally disagree” with Mr Macpherson’s comments.

But she admitted the road to independence must be “gradual” as the key focus of her campaign centres around convincing those who voted against independence in 2014.

Speaking in Glasgow on Monday, she said: “I would fundamentally disagree (with Mr Macpherson). I think we have learned lessons of how not to do it from Brexit but I think you can be far more effective in laying the groundwork from the very beginning.

“I think the nature of the transition is that it’s gradual, but I would distance myself from the assumption that it would take decades, or indeed many, many years.”

She added: “But I do agree that we need to reach No voters. We need to listen, we need to respect the reasons why they may not have voted Yes yet because it’s about understanding that (if) we have any hope of persuading them.”