JOHN Swinney has rejected Humza Yousaf’s claim that Scottish independence feels “frustratingly close”.

The SNP leadership contender – who appears nailed on to succeed Humza Yousaf as first minister – said the party had to “win more hearts and minds behind independence” despite strong support in opinion polls.

Speaking on BBC Newsnight on Thursday, the former deputy first minister said support for independence was now “consistently stronger” than in 2014, when Yes won 45% of the vote.

But said that was “not enough”, adding: “I don’t accept that independence is frustratingly close.”

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Swinney said: “I think we’ve got to win more hearts and minds behind independence, which is why I want us to engage in that persuasion exercise with people in Scotland.

"Because we’ll never get to independence unless we build levels of support for independence so that people can see that independence is the compelling proposition that will protect Scotland from the folly of the Tory Brexit or the Westminster-imposed cost of living crisis.

“And that’s the way out of all of this for Scotland to give us a Parliament with all of the normal powers of independence to enable us to be able to chart our own course.”

Yousaf made the claim during his resignation speech on Monday after conceding defeat when his plan to run a minority government without the Greens backfired.

He said: “Independence feels frustratingly close, but the last few miles of any marathon are always the hardest.”

The National: Humza Yousaf

Yousaf (above) said he believed that if “every person in Scotland could be afforded the opportunity of being first minister for just one day” they would “vote for independence with both their head and their heart”.

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On Friday, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross wrote to Swinney urging him to “drop his obsession with independence”.

In a list of demands he urged the expected next first minister to axe the office of Independence Minister, currently held by Jamie Hepburn, and to ditch “taxpayer-funded SNP propaganda papers”.