HUMZA Yousaf has said he will regard the SNP winning a majority of seats in the general election as a mandate for independence in a huge early gamble for his leadership.

The First Minister said independence would be "page one, line one" of the party's manifesto in a bid to “break the logjam” on the constitution.

Mr Yousaf’s team later admitted the plan could see him claim a mandate on a far lower threshold than under Nicola Sturgeon’s 50%-plus-1 ‘de facto referendum’ plan.

Mr Yousaf said that if the SNP scored a victory, he would demand the UK Government either open negotiations on independence or let Holyrood hold a referendum.

He told the SNP’s independence convention in Dundee that the people of Scotland had to be  able to express their support for ending the Union in a “democratic vote”.

He said: “I believe that in this election, the SNP should offer the people of Scotland a manifesto for an independent Scotland. A manifesto bursting with ideas about how Scotland can harness our potential through the powers of independence.

“And in that manifesto - page one, line one - I am proposing that we put a simple powerful statement to the people:  Vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country”.

It amounts to a gamble for the new SNP leader, as his party is currently sliding in the polls as support for Labour rises and support for the Tories plummets.

The SNP won 48 of 59 seats at the 2019 general election, but boundary changes will reduce the total in Scotland to 57, meaning a majority would be 29.

Under Mr Yousaf’s plan, the SNP could claim a mandate for independence even if it lost a greater proportion of its MPs than it did at the 2017 general election

The next UK Government is unlikely to be swayed by an SNP that has gone backwards.

Mr Yousaf later said that even if the SNP did not win a mandate at the general election likely in 2024 it would still have a mandate from the 2021 Holyrood election.

Mr Yousaf, who has promised to be a “first activist” as well as First Minister, also announced he would attend a rally organised by Believe in Scotland in Edinburgh on September 2.

He said the SNP, which has often shied away from rallies oragnised by the All Under One Banner group, would get “fully behind this grassroots initiative”.

He said: “Let’s make this rally the biggest our cause has ever seen.”

Mr Yousaf used a large part of his speech to set out the process the Scottish Government would go through if the SNP won the general election with 29 or more MPs.

He said: “If the SNP does win this election then the people will have spoken.

“We will seek negotiations with the UK Government on how we give democratic effect to Scotland becoming an independent nation.

Remember, we are not the block on a referendum – a referendum is our Plan A.

“Westminster are the ones blocking it.

“So whether that democratic effect is a referendum or simply the general election itself, that is for them to answer.

“They told Scotland, this is a voluntary union. Prove it.”

He said he would not “wait for Westminster”.

He went on: “If we win the General Election, we will take that mandate from the people and ensure we as a government are ready to negotiate our independence.

“Firstly, we will set out in a detailed document the terms we would seek in discussions with the UK Government for Scotland becoming an independent country.

“It would be called ‘Withdrawal from Westminster – a New Partnership Agreement’.

“This would include draft legal text on the transfer of powers from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament necessary to prepare for independence. 

“It would set out the Scottish Government position on issues such as the division of assets. “And it would detail future arrangements for continuing, indeed better, co-operation with the rest of the UK.

“Secondly, we will conduct a nationwide, open, and inclusive consultation on a draft interim constitution, the founding document of our newly-independent state.”

He said this would include sections on workers’ rights, protection for the NHS and a duty on the Scottish Government to pursue nuclear dissarmament.

“the first line of the interim constitution will say the following: ‘Scotland is an independent country in which the people are sovereign.’

“And thirdly, if we win the General Election, we will prepare the ground for Scotland to become an independent member state of the EU, by establishing an envoy position, a representative of the Scottish Government in Brussels.

“This position will be focussed on explaining the Scottish Government policy on independence to our fellow Europeans.” 

The convention was called by the SNP to debate its strategy on independence, with a final vote on the exact proposal deferred until conference in October.

However Mr Yousaf’s detail plan was in effect a fait accompli, at least as the general election is concerned.

Tory MSP Donald Cameron said: “The latest push of his independence obsession appears to be an even more extreme version of Nicola Sturgeon’s unpopular de facto referendum strategy.

“He knows fine well that Scots will be voting on a number of issues, but Humza Yousaf – the self-styled first activist – has thrown another slab of red meat to nationalists to deflect from the chaos engulfing his party.

“The SNP delegation that bothered to turn up to Dundee are speaking to themselves about their number one priority while people are struggling with the global cost-of-living crisis and our public services are under incredible pressure.

“By confirming he will attend an independence rally, Humza Yousaf is showing his eye is well and truly off the ball when it comes to tackling his party’s failings during 16 years in office.”

Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray said “Humza Yousaf is clearly preparing for failure with these plans, which seem to suggest that even if his party haemorrhage seats at the next election they will take it as a mandate to continue focusing on separation.  

“We need a government focused on tackling the urgent challenges we face – from the cost of living crisis to the chaos in our NHS to a declining economy – but in the SNP we have a tired party rehashing the same old tired arguments.

“Today has laid bare just how bereft of fresh ideas the SNP truly is – even when it comes to their driving constitutional obsession.

“Voters won’t be fooled by Humza Yousaf’s promise of a losers’ referendum – Scotland needs change, and it’s clear the SNP is incapable of delivering it.

“While they are busy infighting and stoking division, Labour is relentlessly focused on Scotland’s priorities.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "The SNP have put on an entire conference dedicated to demonstrating how tired, out of touch and bereft of ideas they are.

"Nobody believes Humza Yousaf's plan is going to lead to the break-up of the UK. It's a desperate ploy to appease a dwindling band of single-minded nationalist activists.

"Scottish Liberal Democrats will continue to focus on the real priorities of the people of Scotland: the cost-of-living crisis, long waiting lists for NHS treatment and the state of public services."

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “There are any number of vital domestic issues that should be the focus of Scotland's party of government.

“Instead, the nationalists have chosen to neglect those priorities to concentrate on division, grievance and their catastrophic plans to break up the UK.

“The reheated plans for a de facto referendum are desperate, unworkable and impractical.

“What’s more, voters across the country – including those in favour of independence – think it’s a sham.

“This weekend the people of Scotland have seen the SNP for what it truly is - a party that cares about only one thing to the detriment of everything else.

“It’s time for the people’s priorities, not the SNP’s.”