Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she has “enormous confidence” the SNP will choose “someone of ability” to replace her as SNP leader.

The First Minister spoke highly of the three declared candidates, Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan, and said she wanted a “thoroughly positive” debate.

When she announced her intention to resign last week, Ms Sturgeon said she would not be endorsing any new candidate.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I’ve got enormous confidence that the SNP will choose someone of ability.

“All three of the candidates in the race so far – and there’s a few days to go until nominations close – are people that I’ve appointed to Government, either currently or in the past. Two of them are in my cabinet right now.

“Clearly, there’s a spectrum of talent on display there.”

She said she had not influenced the SNP’s national executive committee on the timetable for the contest.

Ms Sturgeon stressed it had been a long time since the last SNP leadership election and it presented a “big opportunity”.

Asked what kind of debate she wanted to see, she said: “It should be thoroughly respectful, thoroughly civilised and thoroughly positive and forward-looking.

“The SNP I know and love gives me confidence it will be that.

“Any of these candidates putting themselves forward for leadership should expect robust scrutiny, that’s part and parcel of what comes from it.

“But they are all individuals of significant talent and ability.”

Ms Sturgeon said it was right that the SNP takes time to consider which direction the campaign for Scottish independence should go in.

The SNP’s special conference on independence, where Ms Sturgeon advocated for treating the next general election as a “de facto referendum”, has been postponed due to the leadership election.

The First Minister was also asked if she was concerned the Gender Recognition Reform Bill may never become law, depending on who wins the leadership race.

Ash Regan has said she will not go ahead with the new law if she wins the race.

She acknowledged the subject matter was “hotly contested and controversial.

She said: “Is it ever acceptable for Westminster to override a law passed by a majority of the Scottish Parliament within a devolved competence?

“My view on that is that no, it’s not ever acceptable.”