Humza Yousaf has promised to secure Scottish independence by “any means necessary” if he becomes First Minister, including through calling a snap Holyrood election.

The SNP leadership contender said the “first thing” he will do if he succeeds Nicola Sturgeon at the end of this month will be to kick-start a fresh grassroots ‘Yes’ campaign.

In interviews over the weekend, the Health Secretary said winning Scottish independence could “absolutely” be achieved within five years if enough voters could be persuaded.

He also raised the prospect of using a snap Holyrood election to “test the popular will” on the issue, in the same way that Ms Sturgeon proposed using next year’s general election as a de facto independence vote.

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Asked if he was seriously considering a snap Holyrood election as part of his independence strategy, Mr Yousaf told the BBC’s Sunday Show: “To achieve independence we will use any means necessary – that is within a legal framework, of course.

“Let’s take nothing off the table, whether it’s de facto referendum, whether it is using a Holyrood election.”

However, he said a snap election would only be justified if opinion polls began showing a sustained majority for leaving the UK.

“It would be about demonstrating that we have a consistent majority for independence. We don’t have that at the moment,” he added.

“This week is a perfect example. We have seen one poll that puts support for independence below 50 per cent, and literally a day later, support above 50 per cent in another poll. We can’t have that fluctuation. We have to have a consistent majority for independence.”

He denied that this meant the prospect of independence was now a long way off. “We are at a tipping point. We are at about 50 per cent. We have to get it over 50 per cent consistently. I don’t accept at all that it’s far away.”

Mr Yousaf’s campaign was handed a boost on Sunday after he was endorsed by John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister and a close ally of Ms Sturgeon.

Mr Swinney said he believed his Cabinet colleague would “strengthen the SNP as a force for progressive change” and would “complete” Scotland’s journey to independence.

The endorsement prompted claims from the Kate Forbes campaign that “senior figures” in the party were “panicking” at the prospect of her winning the contest.

“It increasingly looks like the top brass would much prefer an establishment transfer of power – to carry on with the status quo – rather than allowing our membership the freedom to make a healthy democratic choice,” said the SNP MSP Michelle Thomson, in a statement released by Ms Forbes’s campaign.

The Finance Secretary published a “mini manifesto” on Sunday, setting out her stance on issues ranging from the economy, the NHS and tackling poverty and inequality.

She also claimed that independence was coming “sooner than people think” and that if elected, she would be the First Minister to take Scotland out of the UK.

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