AND then there were, officially, three.

Ash Regan ­formally threw her hat into the ring on Friday ­morning, after a pretty tumultuous week for her leadership ­rivals.

Kate Forbes got monstered for her avowed Christian beliefs – surely less than a surprise to all the folk with whom she’d worked for half a dozen years.

Humza Yousaf was accused of arranging a meeting with someone he could arguably have met any time in order to be absent with leave from the final vote on same sex marriage to appease Muslim elders.

Meanwhile Labour and Conservative tweeters and bloggers have been in overdrive, pumping out anti-independence messages for all their worth.

As we know, all is ever sweetness and light in their own dear parties! Scottish politics? All human life is here.

We are all, to some extent, ­prisoners of our own priorities and prejudices. My ­overriding concern is to get Scottish ­independence over the line by the ­shortest possible and most convincing route.

I ­applauded Ash Regan’s decision to resign over the GRR bill because I sensed, like many women she was not opposed to trans rights, just to dodgily drafted legislation.

The SNP hierarchy quite correctly said that trans women pose no threat, only bad men with bad intentions do. As we have seen, bad men with bad intentions also have no scruples about adopting any ­persona that might get them off a legal hook.

There has, of course, been the ability to live in your gender of choice since a UK ­parliamentary act almost 10 years ago. The fact that it involved cumbersome and ­intrusive tests was what prompted ­Holyrood to try and make trans rights less of an ­obstacle course. So far, so ­admirable.

But in failing to exclude known sex ­offenders it risked opening the door wider to the bad guys.

It was argued that accepting ­amendments to exclude them might contravene the Equalities Act. Ironically, they were ­accused of doing so anyway – hence the ­attempt by the UK Government to stop it becoming law.

However I didn’t buy Ms Regan’s ­support for a de facto referendum at either the UK or Scottish general election as she appeared to endorse in an interview on the eve of her launch. At the launch itself, this was re-branded as a “voter empowerment ­mechanism”, perhaps on the advice of prominent supporter Joanna Cherry.

Hopefully that is the case, since the chances of the SNP getting 50% of the vote plus one under the current electoral system are on a par with my making the Olympic bobsleigh team.

Which brings me to the Greens, the partnership with whom gave the SNP government the parliamentary majority for independence it needed. The Greens have been so loud in their support for ­issues like the gender recognition bill and sundry other “progressive” policies that it began to look like the tail was wagging the dog.

There are many aspects of Green ­policies with which I’m in sympathy, but when I hear their equalities ­spokesperson ­talking about extending gender ­recognition rights to young children I’m afraid I find that more chilling than ­progressive.

There is a difference between being radical and ­being rabid. The Greens sometimes seem in thrall to the rabid, as witness the ­belated defenestration of the co-convenor of the Rainbow Greens after a series of tweets encouraging violence.

I suspect Alex Cole Hamilton, LibDems leader, will live to regret being filmed and recorded lauding this particular activist.

OF the other two candidates, although a card carrying heathen myself, I believe Kate Forbes is, by some distance, the brightest contender.

Having canvassed opinion among some of my friends, including lesbian ones, there seems to be a widespread view that whilst her own beliefs seem is unconscionably narrow for a 21st century audience, she is sufficiently savvy and tolerant not to seek to impose these views on any future cabinet or policies.

I would hope that there would be a leadership team encompassing many talents and many viewpoints which is always a useful bulwark against group think.

Mixing politics and religion does not result in a happy cocktail. There are too many examples worldwide of countries which are avowedly secular yet slip into intolerance of minority rights.

India and Turkey are obvious examples, whilst the lessons of Afghanistan and Iran teach us that it can be dangerous folly to let ­fundamentalists near government. ­

Conversely, you have examples like the Republic of Ireland, for so long a prisoner of its influential church, which found a democratic means to let its electorate free to make its own choices.

That so many social advances have been made in this once socially ­conservative country is evidence that tolerance can win the day when fresh air and fresh thinking is allowed to blow through government.

It was the third president of the USA, Thomas Jefferson, who argued that there must be a wall of separation between religion and politics and that mantra surely holds good today even if, thanks to Trump, America now has a Supreme Court intent on eroding women’s rights. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and all that.

Back on our own patch, it’s ­comforting to hear both Regan and Forbes saying that there must be more common cause made with the wider Yes movement, and that while the SNP, by virtue of being the ­government of the country, is clearly the lead vehicle, it has no monopoly of ­wisdom on how the convoy should ­proceed.

For too long now there has been the suspicion that the SNP inner circle has become way too small to embrace other voices.

The trans row is emblematic of a ­debate where one set of voices was so ­convinced of its rectitude that any ­dissenter was ­immediately labelled ­reactionary and transphobic.

I know of several women who are unable to have a civil ­conversation with their own daughters on the subject, since the latter think their mothers are hideously out of touch with modern morality.

THE saddest aspect of this is the very large number of young women who also believe that the rights they already enjoy came from the tooth fairy. They cannot or will not accept that there was a long and often thankless journey made by generations of feminists to give basic rights to over half the population.

Women’s rights, trans rights, gay and lesbian rights, all minority (and majority) rights are human rights and need to be protected with equal passion.

So here I stand, a veteran of more marches in support of equality than I care to remember, a woman brought up in a faith who no longer subscribes to one.

Yet I can see in Forbes a mixture of ­talent and intelligence that I believe the SNP would be foolish to throw away. That I know relatively little of Ash Regan is ­perhaps because she has yet to prove herself at cabinet level frontline politics.

Humza Yousaf is a decent man who has suffered more than his fair share of racist prejudice along his journey to ministerial office. However I fear his elevation to the top job would merely underline the Peter principle that people are prone to rise in organisations to their ultimate level of ­incompetence.

I know that there are many opposition parties who would love to see Humza ­succeed because they think that health is an arena in which they can most ­easily and credibly cut the government off at the knees.

It’s certainly not an enviable ­portfolio to try and navigate. Yet, as I say, my priority is Scottish independence. I want the best person for the job to inherit the Sturgeon crown.

I doubt we will ever encounter each ­other anywhere on a Sunday morning, but I suspect Kate Forbes is ­independence’s best bet.