HUMZA Yousaf has said he is not "wedded" to the idea of a de facto referendum and that SNP politicians should "listen to the membership". 

The Health Secretary kicked off his bid to become the next SNP leader and first minister at an event packed with supporters and fellow politicians at Clydebank Town Hall in West Dunbartonshire on Monday morning.

Yousaf set out his stall on a variety of issues, and hit back at claims Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation was a “death knell” for the independence movement.

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Speaking to a busy room full of journalists and supporters, Yousaf had the backing of numerous SNP politicians including fellow MSP Neil Gray and SNP MPs Anum Qaisar and Anne McLaughlin.

Yousaf told the press conference: “I have some concerns about using a Westminster General Election as a de facto referendum.

“I’m not as wedded to it as the First Minister, that’s her preference.

“I'm not going to go in with a preference, I’m going to listen to what the membership has got to say.”

“We need to roll up our sleeves on the why we need independence, and the how will become inevitable,” he added. 

Yousaf’s speech focused heavily on his experience in the Scottish Government over the past decade and taking on three of its toughest roles, transport minister, justice secretary, and his current post as Health Secretary.

He said that during his time in his current position, he has been told by numerous care home providers and staff that Brexit has “significantly impacted their ability” to recruit.

The National: Yousaf launched his campaign in Clydebank on MondayYousaf launched his campaign in Clydebank on Monday (Image: Colin Mearns)

He said: “A hard Brexit is just one example of the Conservative’s economic vandalism to a cost of living crisis, damaging policy after damaging policy, causing harm to our people, working against Scotland’s needs and interests.

“Scotland can no longer afford to be tied, quite literally, to this Union. We need our independence, as a nation.

“For too long our opponents have been desperate to talk endlessly about it, while at the same time actively refusing to grant a Section 30 order despite the SNP winning regular mandates for an independence referendum.”

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,” he added.

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“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.

“To do that not by engaging endlessly in process, but do that by engaging on policy, not being stuck in the quagmire. We need to get out there, talk to people, remind them that it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Yousaf also told the press conference he welcomed the SNP National Executive Committee’s (NEC) decision to postpone the special conference due to be held next month in Edinburgh, to thrash out the details of the de facto referendum plan.

The National: Yousaf launched his campaign with a call to mobilise the grassroots Yes movemementYousaf launched his campaign with a call to mobilise the grassroots Yes movemement (Image: Colin Mearns)

Later, Yousaf was asked if he won the race to become SNP leader, would he treat the next General Election as a de-facto referendum, as had been Nicola Sturgeon’s preference.

The MSP said that he would want the SNP membership to have a full discussion before pinning his mast to one idea, but admitted he was not as “wedded” to the de facto plan as Sturgeon had been, hinting at flexibility of his position.

In a press huddle with journalists following his speech, Yousaf would not be drawn on the details of what a “settled will” would be.

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Asked if a 60% Yes vote consistently in polls would be the measure, Yousaf said that it had to be a legal route to independence.

He said: “Anything that is not within a legal framework is going to get short thrift, and no I’m not going to put a trigger on it or a percentage of it.”

Yousaf also insisted that he will abide by the SNP manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021, and on policy commitments on issues, such as conversion therapy and buffer zones at abortion clinics, and said he was “standing firm” on those issues.