ANGUS Robertson has become the latest Cabinet minister to endorse Humza Yousaf in the SNP leadership race.

The Constitution Secretary suggested Yousaf was the only candidate who the Greens – on whom the SNP must rely to form a pro-Yes majority in Holyrood – would accept as first minister.

And he highlighted Yousaf’s commitment to challenging the UK Government’s move to block Scotland’s gender recognition reforms, stressing that he was the only candidate to promise this.

The Health Secretary is out in front in terms of parliamentary support but final decision rests in the hands of ordinary SNP members who will vote in a ballot which opens on Monday and closes on March 27.

The National:

Fellow candidate Kate Forbes has received the backing of business secretary Ivan McKee.

No current Scottish Government ministers have backed Ash Regan’s bid to become the next SNP leader.

Robertson, who has held a number of senior roles in the SNP both in Holyrood and in Westminster, said he was “in no doubt that it has to be Humza”.

The Glasgow MSP was the only candidate who could unite the party and the Yes movement in the aftermath of Sturgeon’s departure, according to Robertson.

He told The National: “As a party, we simply cannot stand aside and let the Westminster establishment trample over the democratic will of Scotland’s Parliament.

“Humza is the only candidate that is willing to take on the Tories and protect Holyrood from their dirty tricks and overt power grabs on the devolution settlement.

“Independence is inevitable and within our sights. 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.

“With Westminster relentlessly attacking our movement it is absolutely vital that we leave no chinks in the armour and maintain our pro-independence majority in Holyrood now, and into the future.”

Robertson suggested the Bute House agreement – the Greens and SNP coalition deal struck after the last Holyrood election – was safest under Yousaf, warning that the relationship must be protected.

The National:

It comes after suggestions the smaller party could exit the deal – which has formed a pro-Yes majority in the Scottish Parliament, meaning the SNP do not need to rely on Unionist votes – should either Regan or Forbes win the contest.

Reports have suggested the Greens could walk over Forbes’s comments on LGBT rights. And the party would have been angered by Regan’s comments that the “tail is wagging the dog” in the current arrangement.  

Robertson 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. Humza is the only candidate that has been absolutely unequivocal in his position on Scotland within Europe.”

And Roberston said that Yousaf’s experience as an activist and a minister – having held the positions of health secretary and justice secretary – made him the best candidate for the job.

Yousaf’s critics have said his time in government counted against him – pointing to record high waiting times in the Scottish NHS under his watch and the controversy surrounding his hate crime legislation which remains inactive, despite being passed nearly two years ago.

The National:

Robertson said: “Starting his life in the party as an activist, Humza has held down some of the toughest jobs in government with a record to be proud of in every one of those posts.

“Humza is the leader that our opponents fear. Humza is the leader that will take on Westminster and stand up for Scotland’s democracy. Humza is the leader that will unite our independence movement at this important stage in our history.

“On Monday, I’ll be voting Humza number one.”