HUMZA Yousaf has said he has not spoken to Alex Salmond “for many, many years” after the former first minister appeared to imply that he had recently had conversations with all three contenders vying to take over as SNP leader.

Speaking to Times Radio on Monday morning, the Alba party leader was asked about rumours that he had “had some contact with Ash Regan, that you might be giving her some advice, promoting her etc”.

Salmond responded: “I've got no dog in this fight. I've spoken to all three candidates at various times. But I'm not going to tell you the nature of these conversations.

“I've got the old-fashioned view that private conversations are private.”

Asked by media while out on the campaign trail in Glasgow about the comments, Yousaf rejected the implication that he had talked to Salmond during the leadership race.

He said: “It’s certainly news to me. I haven’t spoken to Alex Salmond for years, well before the Nicola Sturgeon fallout happened in relation to himself. But also I don’t think I spoke to him then. I haven’t spoken to him for many, many years.

“I can’t even think about when it’s been, but it’s certainly been years, so I’m not sure why he would imply that we’ve spoken during the campaign.”

Salmond was also asked why he thought some 30,000 members had left the SNP since December 2021. He suggested that the “key underlying factor is the lack of progress in moving towards independence”.

READ MORE: SNP 'mishandled' members row but 'perspective' needed, says Nicola Sturgeon

Asked if he agreed that this was the case, Yousaf said: “I think there will be lots of reasons why [there’s been a drop in membership]. But let’s put this into context. Alex Salmond is the leader of a rival political party that spends most of its time attacking the SNP from what I can see, so he’s not a disinterested commentator on all of this.

“I think it’s really important that whoever the new leader of the SNP is, gets right into the reeds and understands what the reasons are that we had that drop off in membership because I suspect there will be more than one issue.”

At the campaign event at Who Cares?, Yousaf was also asked about calls from Regan’s campaign team for SNP members to be able to go back and change their vote in the leadership race.

He said he did not think the SNP should “fiddle around with the ballot, particularly in the last week”.

The National:

Asked if people should be able to change their vote, he said: “I just don’t think it’s needed, given that all three candidates say they respect the integrity of the ballot. I don’t know why in the last week we’d want to change the system, which could probably cause some level of confusion.”

When asked if the whole ballot should be started afresh, Yousaf said: “No. It’s clear that all three candidates have now said they have faith in the integrity of the ballot and that all three will respect the outcome of the ballot. That’s good.

“I’m pleased that the other candidates have agreed with my position that I’ve had from the beginning, that the integrity of the ballot is not in question.”

Salmond has been approached for comment.