Humza Yousaf claimed he is the best candidate to carry on Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy as he fired the starting gun on his race to become Scotland’s next first minister.
The SNP health chief was full of praise for main leadership rival Kate Forbes, but had less to say about challenger Ash Regan.
He also answered questions on the future of gender reform law, independence and his track record in a struggling health service.
Here’s all you need to know about his pitch to be the nation’s next leader.
1. ‘I have the experience’
Mr Yousaf defended his record as health secretary despite repeated calls from opponents for him to resign.
He argued he is an experienced hand who had been “trusted with some of the country’s most difficult jobs” over the past decade.
The Glasgow Pollok MSP claimed he had successfully worked with NHS staff to avoid strikes, and insisted the health service was performing better under his watch than elsewhere in the UK.
That’s despite record A&E waiting times in the north and north-east, huge treatment backlogs, patients facing lengthy waits for an ambulance, and concerns over staff shortages in rural areas.
Mr Yousaf has faced relentless demands to quit his current post from Scottish Labour, who have heavily criticised his management of the NHS.
He brushed off claims from their deputy leader Jackie Baillie that he would be “delusional” to run for first minister, saying: “The opposition attacking government ministers is hardly a surprise.”
2. ‘We are closer to independence than we’ve ever been’
“I believe in independence with every fibre of my being”, Mr Yousaf said as he addressed key supporters in Clydebank’s town hall.
He told the audience independence would be won by building greater support across the country and warned there were no quick routes to exiting the UK.
He said: “We have to get back to the basics and remind people why they need independence.”
But he distanced himself from Ms Sturgeon’s plans to fight the next Westminster vote on separation alone, admitting he had “concerns” about her strategy.
Mr Yousaf claimed it will be “politically impossible” for the UK Government to deny Scotland its independence if a desire to leave the UK becomes the “settled will”.
But he was unable to outline a clear path to a second referendum and admitted any approach will “undoubtedly have challenges”.
3. ‘I’m my own man’
Mr Yousaf started out his pitch with effusive praise for the outgoing first minister. One of her longtime close allies, he insisted she had done more than anybody to pursue independence.
From gender reforms to the deposit return scheme, the current health secretary intends to continue on with many of her major policies if he takes over.
But Mr Yousaf insisted he was still his “own man” and denied he was a “downgrade” from his departing party leader who has dominated Scotland’s political landscape.
4. ‘We need someone who can heal division’
The independence question and gender reforms row fractured unity within the SNP ahead of what could be a bruising leadership campaign.
Ms Regan quit the government in protest last October and has vowed to ditch some of Ms Sturgeon’s signature policies. Veteran Inverness MSP Fergus Ewing has become a thorn in his own party’s side.
Mr Yousaf pitched himself to supporters as a candidate who can bring the SNP together and heal deepening rifts.
He said: “I believe I have the best set of skills to bridge divides that exist. We need someone who can reach across the divide, and heal division where necessary.”
Finance chief and Highland MSP Ms Forbes launched her own campaign just as Mr Yousaf started speaking in Clydebank, and she is expected to be his strongest rival.
Mr Yousaf was quick to talk up her abilities, describing her as an “extraordinary talent” who would warrant a place in his government if he succeeded Ms Sturgeon.
He wasn’t as keen on offering Ms Regan a place in any future cabinet, saying: “Let’s see where we get to in this race.”
5. ‘We should absolutely be challenging’
Mr Yousaf said he fully backed Ms Sturgeon’s controversial reforms aimed at making it easier for transgender people to self-identify.
The SNP leadership contender condemned the UK Government’s decision to block them and said he would be willing to challenge the Tories in court.
He claimed the Conservatives were trying to “trample” over the “will of the Scottish Parliament”.
He said: “This is about an assault and attack on our very democratic institutions. Yes, I think we should absolutely be challenging that.”