THE proposal put forward by Ash Regan to treat every Holyrood or Westminster election as a de facto referendum is not “realistic”, Humza Yousaf has said.

The Health Secretary was speaking to The National from Pollokshields, where he was to meet with local activists as part of his leadership campaign.

He was asked about proposals put forward by Regan, his rival in the race alongside Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, ahead of her campaign launch on Friday morning.

Regan said in a letter to SNP members that as party leader she would treat every election going forward as a chance for the people of Scotland to vote for independence.

READ MORE: Ash Regan would 'lead minority SNP government' if Greens left Bute House deal

She wrote: “The referendum mechanism has been exhausted, including the 'so-called' de facto referendum proposal.

“Under my leadership the SNP policy will be to explicitly declare on line one of our party manifesto in any election going forward, that should we (in conjunction or not with other parties) achieve a majority of seats and votes cast, then collectively we will 'begin independence negotiations' on day one of the new parliament.

“This is the 'Voter Empowerment Mechanism', and it is designed to let the people of Scotland decide when they are ready.”

Asked about Regan’s “VEM” proposal, Yousaf said that it was not “realistic” because you could not “magically” expect the UK Government to join in those negotiations.

He told The National: “I don’t think the formulation that Ash has put forward is realistic. Let’s be honest. If we get 50%+1 [of the vote] there is no way that we can suddenly demand that the UK Government comes to the negotiation table.

“I’ve been involved in lots of negotiations, particularly recently, and you need two people across that table, at least two people to begin those negotiations. I don’t think that if you get 50%+1 that magically you can instruct the UK Government to come up the road to Edinburgh to begin negotiations.”

However, Yousaf said that the idea of a de facto referendum was not off the table, because it would be for party members to decide.

He said: “I don’t think it’s a realistic idea. I think the membership will be the ones who finally decide.

“I think whoever wins this contest, it’s really important that we talk honestly and openly with the membership about how we secure our independence. That’s got to be by building the popular support, sustained popular support, that eventually those political obstacles that the UK Government puts in the way, they will be overcome.”

READ MORE: First TV debate confirmed for SNP leadership race

It was put to Yousaf that if he wins the leadership contest, but then at an SNP conference members vote for Regan’s VEM proposals, he will be in the tricky position of having to lead on an election strategy he has publicly said is unrealistic.

Yousaf responded: “I’ve said very very clearly I will engage with the membership. I will make sure we engage, not just at one special conference, but in many conversations across the country.

“If ultimately that is where they land, on a de facto referendum, which I’m not saying is absolutely off the table, I’ve said I’m not wedded to the idea, but if it is a de facto referendum, if that is what comes from the membership, then that is obviously the option that we would consider.”