SNP leadership

Yousaf plays down role of special conference

Humza Yousaf: kickstarting independence campaign

Humza Yousaf has played down the significance of the special conference on independence if he is elected SNP leader.

Mr Yousaf says that a more democratic process to establish the route to independence will be through a series of discussions across the country.

A one-off “democracy conference” to determine the independence strategy had been planned for 19 March but was suspended by the party’s governing body after Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation.

The SNP’s website states that the intention is to reschedule it once the new Leader is in position and a decision can be taken on the agenda for the event.

“As a guide time, that will likely be around late May or early June,” it states.

In Dundee today Mr Yousaf is expected to say that he will “kickstart the Yes campaign” and “raise the level of engagement and activism we saw in the lead up to 2014.”

He will tell members: “Let me be clear, determining the route to independence will not simply be a single discussion at one special conference.

“Rather, it should involve a series of honest and frank discussions with members across the country to establish our route to an independent Scotland.

“The only way we can counteract the anti-democratic actions of Westminster is through more democracy, embedded all across our society – including our party.

“Within my first week as SNP Leader, I will immediately set up Regional Assemblies across Scotland to build on the discussions of all our members and branches on how to win independence.

“This will allow our party to decide our collective plan for independence at Annual Conference and, as your SNP Leader, I will act upon the collective and democratic decisions of our members.”

Describing himself as the “grassroots candidate” in the leadership campaign, will also commit to setting up a presence in Brussels to help lay the groundwork for an independent Scotland to join the European Union.

His comments come after a week of bitter in-fighting that threatens to split the party. Alex Neil, a veteran party member and a predecessor of the current Health Secretary, yesterday accused Mr Yousaf of misleading party members over his reasons for skipping a vote on the landmark same-sex marriage bill in 2014.

Mr Neil said Mr Yousaf bowed to “pressure by the leaders of the mosque in Glasgow” to dodge the final vote. He told a radio station: “The meeting was arranged deliberately to give him cover for the timing of the vote.”

He said Mr Yousaf “should just be honest” about his reason for skipping the vote. Mr Neil claimed he lacked the “backbone” and economic expertise to lead Scotland to independence.

Mr Yousaf responded: “I don’t know why Alex Neil has decided to intervene but … I support equal marriage. I supported it then, support it now and had an unavoidable meeting on a very important topic in relation to a prisoner on death row in Pakistan.”

Kate Forbes, the Finance Secretary, has lost a number of supporters and has been heavily criticised after stating her opposition to same-sex marriage and the gender reform act.

Mhairi Black, the deputy leader of the SNP at Westminster, who married her same-sex partner last year, said she was “incredibly hurt” by Forbes’s remarks.

Ms Forbes later apologised for any hurt she may have caused but urged the public to respect her willingness “to be honest and open, even at the cost of my leadership bid and my career”.

She is expected to turn her attention to the economy in a speech on Monday.

Ash Regan, the third candidate, kicked off her campaign with an attack on the management of the party by Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell. She said it was inappropriate for the husband of the current first minister to remain as chief executive of the party.

She also said she would abandon Ms Sturgeon’s pending court challenge against the gender reform bill and devise a new strategy to take Scotland out of the UK without an independence referendum.

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