HUMZA Yousaf has suggested Nicola Sturgeon’s taxpayer-funded £1.5million prospectus for independence is simply being ignored by the general public.

The health secretary tonight described it as material “that frankly sits on a website and nobody reads”.

He was speaking in Glenrothes at the second of nine hustings organised by the SNP as it searches for a replacement for Ms Sturgeon.

Mr Yousaf also said the SNP, not just the Government, should have a permanent presence in Brussels to liaise with other nations and sell the message  an independent Scotland would be a full EU member, with Ms Sturgeon possibly in the key role.

The First Minister began publishing a new multi-part prospectus, Building a New Scotland, in June last year, with two further parts in July and October.

Publication has been suspended until a new first minister is installed, but civil servants continue to work on it.

Asked how to convince people who were doubtful about the finances of independence in 2014, Mr Yousaf identified pensions and currency as weak points in the last campaign. 

He went on: “In the Scottish Government actually we’ve produced a whole number of papers, prospectuses, but they’ve not got out to the activists that are doing the work on the doorstep.

“And we’ve got another whole bunch of papers that are being developed and designed. 

“And my job, if I’m elected as First Minister, will be to put the government into fifth gear, to get these out there, but not just as prospectuses that frankly sit on a website and nobody reads. 

“What we’ve got to do is make sure we’re arming you, as the activists, because we have the answers. 

“We know that our country not just can be independent, but will be a wealthy, independent nation. 

“So what we’ve got to do is make sure that those prospectuses are being distilled into bite sized chunks and being put in your hands.”

In November, it emerged 25 civil servants costing up to £1.5m a year in wages were working on the Scottish Government prospectus, including one paid up to £83,000.

Kate Forbes said her experience as finance and economy secretary would help convince wavering voters that independence was credible, and she would set out a 10 year vision for how Scotland could prosper in its first decade outside the Union.

“I think the economy is, as it were, the battle lines for the future independence campaign,” she said.

Former minister Ms Regan suggested the public could be convinced to vote Yes by a “readiness thermometer” akin to a fundraising prop, erected in Glasgow or Edinburgh. 

She said it would have “a dial on it that moves”, illustrating progress.

She said: “So when we’ve made all the plans for the currency, for instance, or we’ve set up how we’re going to do something to do with defence or whatever it is, that dial will move.

“The media can look at it, everyone can look at it, and it builds that confidence with the public so that when we get up to the 100 per cent, everybody in Scotland knows we’ve solved all these problems, we’ve set up the currency, everything’s ready to go, and they’ll have that confidence.”

Mr Yousaf joked that despite being health secretary he had never heard of a “readiness thermometer”.

All three candidates said they would promote the independence message in all future elections, and use it to put pressure on Westminster to concede either independence or Indyref2.

However some SNP members were audibly sceptical when Ms Regan said she was sure the UK Government would come to the table if a majority of votes went to pro-independence parties.

After the recent ScotWind round saw leases granted to overseas energy giants for £700m, Mr Yousaf said the next round should see the Scottish Government take an “equity stake” in offshore windfarms and set up a national renewable energy company.

Ms Forbes said it was too late to establish a Norway-style sovereign wealth fund for oil, but one could be created to capture the financial benefits of a renewable energy boom.

Ms Regan said renewable energy technology should be manufactured in Scotland and a national energy company established, adding: “We cannot miss the boat this time.”

The hustings took place hours after a poll of SNP members suggesting the race is wide open, with the largest group of voters still undecided.

The Savanta survey for the Daily Telegraph put Mr Yousaf in front with the support of 31 per cent of members, Ms Forbes close behind on 25% and Ms Regan a distant third on 11%.

The remaining 32% said they didn’t know who to vote for.

With the undecideds removed, Mr Yousaf  was on 46%, Ms Forbes on 37% and Ms Regan on 17%.

According to Savanta, Ms Forbes’ supporters are more likely to be male and older, with a third of the over-55s giving her their first choice. Mr Yousaf’s supporters are more likely to be younger, with the Health Secretary winning 42% of the 18-54s.

Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director at Savanta, said: “This first poll of SNP members really indicates that the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon is too close to call.

“While Humza Yousaf narrowly leads Kate Forbes, with such a high proportion of undecided voters, it’s difficult to be able to say definitively who is really in the lead.” 

The ballot, which opens on March 13 and runs for two weeks, will be conducted using the single transferable vote system, with second preferences potentially crucial.

Mr Hopkins added: “Removing undecided voters to give a headline voting intention still puts Yousaf short of the 50% threshold required, and therefore he would require some of Ash Regan’s votes to transfer to him to be elected leader.”