THE three candidates in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader and first minister have begun setting out their stalls as the leadership contest heats up.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and former community safety minister Ash Regan have all announced their leadership campaigns.

Like the party they hope to lead, they are split on how best to achieve independence – while united on the necessity of exiting the Union.

So how do they hope to secure Scotland’s future?

Forbes: ‘Strong leadership will take us to independence’

Kate Forbes has put herself forward as the “strong, competent” leader she believes will deliver independence.

READ MORE: Kate Forbes officially enters SNP leadership race

In her campaign video confirming her candidacy, Forbes pitched herself as a “unifier” for the SNP – but also stressed she refused to “sit back and watch our nation thwarted on the road to self-determination”.

The National: The SNP’s Kate Forbes delivers an entire Holyrood speech in Gaelic (Jane Barlow/PA)

She said: “Friends in the SNP, our nation and our movement are at a major crossroads. The choices that we make in the next few weeks will have a profound impact on our future and on our children’s future.

“I can’t sit back and watch our nation thwarted on the road to self-determination. Our small independent neighbours enjoy wealthier, fairer and greener societies and so should we.

“We urgently need to unleash the full talent of the SNP, the wider Yes movement and the country at large.

“We need to choose strong, competent leadership to deliver independence, the leadership that I can offer. I believe we need someone who can unite our party and our movement. I’m a unifier, I’ll reach out and listen so that every member feels valued and able to contribute.”

But Forbes was not just focused on unity in the Yes movement, adding she was aware of the need to convince even more Scots if the country was to become independent.

She added: “That’s also important if we’re to persuade others of the merits of independence. But right now we also need somebody with a grip on our economy and our finances.

“In the throes of a cost-of-living crisis and the need to plan for independence, my years managing Scotland’s budget and economy have given me the experience that we need to do just that.

“More than anything we need a leader who is bold, brave and energised, fresh-faced and ready for new challenges.

“Somebody who inspires your confidence as an SNP member and who inspires the confidence of the people of Scotland to vote for a better future

“I am that leader and I want to lead our party into better days with integrity and commitment for the sake of your children and my children.”

Regan: ‘Independence – nothing less’

Ash Regan has said the most about the specifics of her approach to independence at this early stage in the referendum, coming out strongly in favour of using the next Westminster General Election as a de facto vote on the issue.

The National:

In a screenshot posted to Twitter, she said if she was elected leader she would call an “independence convention” on day one in post.

She said: “This will involve all pro-independence parties, independence organisations, think-tanks and civil society to organise a new independence campaign body.”

READ MORE: What are the SNP leadership candidates' views on key social issues?

Like other candidates she said the Scottish Government should be used to convince people of the case for independence through “strong, effective” governance.

Using the next General Election as a de facto vote would allow the Yes movement to “take control of the process towards independence ourselves”, she said.

Regan further suggested that any parliamentary election could serve as a de facto referendum.

She said: “If pro-independence parties; with a clear mandate for such action in their manifestos have more than 50%+1 of the votes cast in a Westminster or Holyrood election, this will be a clear instruction that Scotland wishes to be an independent nation.

"We will invite the Westminster Government … to commence negotiations and a timeframe for Scotland’s withdrawal from the UK.”

Yousaf: ‘The why – not the how’

Humza Yousaf has pitched himself as agnostic on the “how” of achieving independence, saying he would not take a stance on the particulars.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf not 'wedded' to de facto referendum plan as he launches leadership bid

Instead, he pledged to “listen to … the membership” and said he was not “wedded” to the idea of using a de facto vote.

The National:

Speaking at the launch of his campaign on Monday, he said: “We need to roll up our sleeves on the why we need independence, and the how will become inevitable.”

Yousaf said the SNP going forward needs to “stop falling into our opponent's traps”.

“They want to define the question about process - we need to start talking about policy.

“We have to get back to basics and remind people why they need independence. It isn’t good enough to have a poll that put support for independence at different percentages, 50% or 51%, in order to gain our independence.

“We have to grow that grassroots support from the bottom up, so we can definitively say that independence has become the settled will of the Scottish people.”