IT would be “sad” if the entire SNP leadership campaign was dominated by the single issue of Scotland’s gender reforms, Humza Yousaf has said.

The Health Secretary, who was one of the first contenders to throw his hat in the ring for the job of next Scottish first minister, officially launched his campaign at a press conference in Clydebank Town Hall, West Dunbartonshire, on Monday morning.

Yousaf was repeatedly probed on his stance on Scotland’s gender reforms, conversion therapy and buffer zones outside of abortion clinics at the event.

He insisted that those progressive policies brought Scotland "within touching distance of independence". 

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf not 'wedded' to de facto Scottish independence referendum plan

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, who was on maternity leave when the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill was passed, and Ash Regan, who quit her position as community safety minister in protest against the bill, are the two other contenders who have declared so far.

In her first interview following her leadership bid, Forbes said she would have voted against Scotland's gender reforms in their current form and hinted she would not pursue a legal challenge against the UK Government. 

Regan has said she would scrap the GRR Bill if she becomes the next SNP leader. 

It comes after Scottish Secretary Alister Jack used a Section 35 order to block the bill from being given royal assent and becoming law in January.

Nicola Sturgeon said in the wake of the announcement that the Scottish Government would launch a legal challenge to the move, and candidates are likely to field repeated questions on the issue as the campaign continues.

But Yousaf, speaking to The National, said he would continue Sturgeon’s legacy of pushing for feminist, progressive policies if he lands the top job.

Asked if he would describe himself as a feminist, he said: “Absolutely, I will continue that because I have told you I'm a minority in this country, I’ve lived my whole life as a minority in this country, I've always been one.

The National: Yousaf launched his leadership bid with support from Neil Gray and Anum QaisarYousaf launched his leadership bid with support from Neil Gray and Anum Qaisar (Image: Colin Mearns)

“I understand that my rights don't exist in a vacuum, they’re interdependent on everybody else's rights.

“If you start chipping away at people's rights, then slowly you'll begin to chip away at others.

“So I'm about protecting and solidifying rights, building on them, but I also want to make sure that we're talking about other issues.

“The GRR is important, I know you've asked him about other issues too.

“Of course, it is an issue of importance but it would be quite sad actually if the entire campaign in the next five weeks is dominated by that one issue.”

READ MORE: LIVE: Kate Forbes launches SNP leadership campaign

Asked if he would serve in a government led by someone who opposed gender reform, Yousaf said: "If another person wins it, and their values don't align with mine, and with the social progressive path we have been on as a party, that has got us to this position where we are in touching distance of independence, then we'll consider that."

Finance Secretary Forbes, who announced her own leadership bid as Yousaf’s press conference was due to begin, and her stance on Scotland’s gender reforms have come under the spotlight following Sturgeon’s resignation.

Forbes, who is returning early from maternity leave to campaign to become the next SNP leader, and her religious beliefs, as a member of the Free Church of Scotland, have been discussed in the public eye in recent weeks - as well as whether or not she would challenge the Section 35 order if she took the top job.

Yousaf was asked if it was fair that Forbes had seen criticism levelled at her due to her religion, while he had not seen the same level of scrutiny.

The National: Yousaf said it would be 'sad' if the gender reform issue dominated the SNP leadership campaignYousaf said it would be 'sad' if the gender reform issue dominated the SNP leadership campaign (Image: Colin Mearns)

He added: “No because people can look at my track record. I'm gonna be fasting for Ramadan in a number of months. I don't hide the fact that I'm a Muslim, people know that.

“But I don't legislate on the basis of my faith, I legislate on what I think is in the best interest of the country, that's why my record speaks for itself.

“I'm the person that took the Hate Crime Bill through the Parliament, which extended more rights to the LGBT community. It's why I support the GRR Bill, it's why I support my buffer zones around abortion clinics.

“So look, my track record will speak for itself. For others, that's for them to answer about their own values.”

READ MORE: Comment: Culture wars sadly look set to define SNP leadership election

Forbes has found backing from three of the eight available SNP MSP rebels who voted against the reforms since she launched her campaign - Jim Fairlie, Perthshire South and Kinross-shire, Annabelle Ewing, Cowdenbeath, and Michelle Thomson, Falkirk East.

The ninth rebel, Regan, called for SNP members who left the party in the past year to be given a vote in the leadership race following Sturgeon’s resignation.

Deputy FM John Swinney, who ruled himself out of the race, described the suggestion as “preposterous”.