ASH Regan has stoked fresh controversy in the contest to be SNP leader by saying her rivals can’t give as much to the job because of their young families.

The former community safety minister, 48, who has twin adult sons, said she “probably couldn’t have contemplated” running the country when they were small.

A young family uses up a lot of time and energy and deprives a person of sleep, she said.

“My kids are grown. I've got the time to dedicate to this,” she told the Herald on Sunday. 

“When you've got a young family, it's an added complication. There’s no doubt about it. I can focus 100 per cent on my career.”

The Edinburgh Eastern MSP also took a swipe at Health Secretary Humza Yousaf for having worked in politics, either for an MSP or as one himself, since leaving university.

She said her strengths in the three-way contest were “being the only adult in the room and having a plan for independence”.

Asked if that meant she didn’t think either Mr Yousaf, 37, or Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, 32, had enough experience of the world, she said: “I would say the public are sick of politicians that have never had real jobs. 

"I think one of my main strengths is that I am not a career politician, that I've come into politics very late, you know, I was in my 40s. 

I've worked in the private sector, and I've worked in the third sector, and I've had a lot of life experience. And also my family are grown now.

"So I feel I'm at the time of my life when I can dedicate myself for a few years to something at a very high level of intensity.”

She went on: “I’ve got strengths in the sense that I’ve worked outside of politics, I've had full life experience, also that my kids are grown. I've got the time to dedicate to this.” 

No first minister of Scotland has yet had a young family.

The first three first ministers - Labour's Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish and Jack McConnell - all had adult or late teen children when they took on the role, while the SNP's Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon had none. 

Ms Forbes gave birth to her first child, Naomi, in August and is currently on maternity leave.

She also has three step daughters, through her marriage to widower Ali MacLennan in 2021, who are in their late teens and early 20s.

Mr Yousaf has a three-year-old daughter, Amal, with his second wife Nadia El-Nakla, and is stepfather to her teenage daughter by a previous marriage.

Asked if, by mentioning she had grown children she was inferring a young family was too much of a complication, Ms Regan said: “It certainly makes it harder. You know, I've got twins. And I probably couldn't have contemplated doing this when my children were small.”

Former New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern gave birth to her first child, Neve, within a year of taking office.

Tony Blair’s fourth child, Leo, was also born three years into the Labour Prime Minister’s decade in Downing Street. 

Put to her that Mr Blair seemed to do all right, Ms Regan said: “I can only tell you what my experience was. It's definitely… when you've got a young family it's an added complication. There's no doubt about it.”

Asked if it was a disqualifying complication, she said: “No, not at all, not at all. But it certainly, you know, adds to the…it takes a lot of time and energy, doesn't it, raising a young family?”

Asked if she was thinking of being sleep deprived, she said: “Absolutely. I'm at the stage in my life where my kids have just gone off to university. So I can focus 100% on my career.”

Besides expanding free child care hours in recent years, the SNP has also promised new ways to make it easier for parents to work in this parliament.

Its 2021 Holyrood manifesto said: "In addition to providing easily accessible and affordable childcare for all families, we will bring forward a package of measures to tackle the so-called ‘motherhood penalty’ and encourage more flexible and family friendly working."

Ms Regan, the outsider in the race, said she was “feeling quite confident” about the outcome. 

She said: “I’ve had a lot of people reaching out to me and saying that I’m the one for them. I can’t quantify that, obviously. But that’s certainly the feedback I’ve been getting.”

Asked if she might earn a place in history as Alba’s first MSP if her leadership bid didn’t pan out, she said: “I am in the SNP. If I’d wanted to go to Alba I would have done it by now. I am not interested.

"I am in this to win it. I want to be leader of the SNP.”

The ballot for SNP members to choose their party leader - and Scotland's next first minister - opens tomorrow, with the winner declared on March 27. 

A spokesperson for Humza Yousaf said: “Our goal should be to ensure that our political system is as welcoming as possible for parents with young children – not putting up further barriers.” 

Ms Forbes's campaign was asked for comment.