IAN Blackford has accused Alex Salmond of “trying to stir the pot” by intervening in the SNP leadership race and questioning the credibility of Humza Yousaf.

The former first minister yesterday challenged Mr Yousaf’s account of why he missed a key vote on gay marriage.

The Alba party leader said his recollection was that Mr Yousaf skipped the vote as he wanted to avoid it because of pressure from religious groups.

"His memory may be different from mine, let's put it that way,” he told Sky News, adding that his recollection chimed with that of former health secretary Alex Neil.

Mr Neil, who was in charge of the legislation, said last week that Mr Yousaf had arranged a meeting as “cover” in order to miss the vote because of “pressure from the mosque”.

The issue has dogged Mr Yousaf through the SNP leadership campaign, as he has questioned the suitability of Kate Forbes after she said she opposed gay marriage.

He again denied missing the vote on purpose after Mr Salmond’s comments yesterday.

Speaking to Times Radio, Mr Blackford, the former SNP Westminster leader, said: “Well, I think what you see is Alex Salmond, as a former member of the SNP trying to stir the pot to some extent, isn't he? 

“Joe Fitzpatrick, who had responsibility for all of this within the SNP, as a business manager effectively, has made it clear that at no point was there a request for Humza to be slipped from voting on this.

“He voted in stage one of that though and it went through Parliament, he's put out a statement reaffirming his support for gay marriage for equality for everybody throughout Scotland. 

“And I think the matter should should rest there. I think he's answered those questions.”

Asked if Mr Yousaf has been under “religious pressure”, Mr Blackford said: ““If you go back to what was happening with this bill, of course, many people would have been lobbied by various different groups, and I don't think Humza would have been any different from from anyone else.

“But at the end of the day, this was a manifesto commitment by the SNP, I'm proud of the fact that we passed this legislation. And let's remember that Humza has supported that at the time and has continued to support that legislation since then.”

Meanwhile, former SNP cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing has backed Ms Forbes in the race, comparing her to his mother, the SNP legend Winnie Ewing..

Ms Ewing invigorated the party by winning the Hamilton by-election in 1967, before serving as an MEP and an MSP, as well as president of the party.

Mr Ewing said: “Over three decades in Scottish politics, I have rarely, if ever, come across a person who has the qualities Kate possesses, which so well equip her for the top job in Scotland.

“Honesty, bravery, integrity, endless hard work, total commitment to eradication of poverty in Scotland, whilst at the same time working to promote and grow the economy in order to fund our valued public services.

“These are all qualities that people in Scotland will appreciate and come to value. Already her talents and qualities have shone through. I predict that will continue during the campaign.

“In working with her as fellow Highland MSPs for the last seven years, I have seen at first-hand how she first won the respect, then the trust and also the affection of her constituents, and the wider public.”

Mr Ewing, the Inverness and Nairn MSP, praised the Finance Secretary’s handling of the criticism of her views of social issues, which he described as “unpleasant and unwarranted”.

He said her response showed she could cope with the “rough, tough and sometimes nasty world that politics has become”.

He added: “Kate reminds me of my mother Winnie Ewing, when she, as a young mother, first won the Hamilton by-election in 1967. Her slogan then was: ‘Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.’ Huge progress has been made since then by the party and the wider independence movement. However, there is further to go.

“Gentle, well-evidenced, rational arguments and patient persuasion is required.

“That means further establishing public trust and private confidence. I have no doubts whatsoever that Kate has the qualities that are required to do just that.”

Mr Yousaf, the Health Secretary,has so far won the support of the majority of the party’s MSPs, but community safety minister Ash Regan is backed by just one MP.