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The three candidates vying to replace Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader have set out their plans for independence during the contest’s first live TV debate.

Health secretary Humza Yousaf said he wanted to build a “consistent majority” for independence.

Finance secretary Kate Forbes said the SNP needed to “reach out to those who are not yet convinced” on the issue.

Rival candidate Ash Regan said the SNP had “lost its way” and pledged to unite the broader Yes movement.

Following Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation announcement, all three candidates are running to become both the next SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister.

Speaking in the STV debate, Mr Yousaf pledged to grow support for independence “to new heights”.

He said: “I am the only candidate who will stand up to Westminster’s power grab and defend our democracy, maintain a pro- independence majority in parliament.”

Ms Forbes said it was time for a new generation to lead and that she was ready for the job.

She emphasised it was important to win over those who are not yet decided on independence by putting the economy “front and centre”, adding that it was time “for a new generation to lead, and I am ready and able to lead that new generation”.

Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes

PA Media

Ms Regan said the SNP had to use the ballot box via elections as the “gold standard” to gaining independence and said she would “build the foundations for independence” through a dedicated commission and convention.

She described the approach of the other candidates as “wishy washy” and said if the SNP won more than 50% of the votes in any election, that should be treated as a mandate for opening independence negotiations.

Relationship with Scottish Greens

There was division among the candidates on the Scottish Greens remaining part of the Scottish government.

Ms Regan said she would “review” the power sharing agreement to ensure it was “working for the people of Scotland”.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie, meanwhile, said on Twitter that Ms Regan’s claim that she had spoken to the leaders of all pro-Yes parties earlier on Tuesday was not true.

Mr Yousaf described the deal with Mr Harvie’s’ party as “vital”, while Ms Forbes refused to say categorically the arrangement would remain, adding it would be for the Greens to decide if they were happy with her approach if she won the leadership contest.

SNP members can vote for Ms Sturgeon’s successor from 13 March.

The winner will be announced on 27 March.

Mr Yousaf has had the most number of Scottish government ministers declaring their support for him with Angus Robertson the latest of four cabinet secretaries to do so.

Finance secretary Ms Forbes has the backing of business minister Ivan McKee, while Ms Regan has the support of high profile MP Joanna Cherry.

The SNP leadership candidates will take part in an hour-long debate on BBC Scotland next week.

A special edition of the Debate Night programme from Edinburgh will air at 20:00 on Tuesday 14 March on BBC One Scotland.

Source: BBC

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