ASH Regan says she wants to “hand independence back to the people” if she’s elected leader of the SNP.

In an exclusive interview with The Herald on the eve of her official leadership campaign launch, Ms Regan said: “In recent years the wider Yes movement has become marginalised in the fight for independence. If elected, I intend to change that.

“As a party, I don’t think we’ve listened enough to the groups who got us here. I know these people because I campaigned side-by-side with them throughout the first referendum. The party has effectively dismantled the Yes campaign, but I want to re-constitute it once more.

“It’s also important that we get on with the business of governing on the day-to-day issues affecting all of the people of Scotland. And, as much as possible, allow some of the groups who did amazing work for the Yes cause in 2013 and 2014 to do what they did so well back then. I want to get the band back together, if you like.”

READ MORE: SNP leadership: Who is Ash Regan and where she stands on key issues

Ms Regan was regarded as one of the rising stars of government in her role as Minister for Community Safety, before resigning her position over her objections to self-id in the Gender Recognition Bill. If she is elected to succeed Nicola Sturgeon she has pledged to work with any party which wants to see an independent Scotland, including Alba.

A large part of the disillusion felt by many rank-and-file independence supporters is rooted in what they perceive as a glacial approach to securing a second referendum and the absence of any detailed strategy on how best to achieve this.

She agrees. “Look. We’ve exhausted all the legal routes to a referendum and it’s clear that neither the Tories nor a future UK Labour government will grant a Section 30 order. So, we must ensure that in any national election (Holyrood or Westminster) at least 50% of vote plus one are cast in favour of independence. This offers the best chance of securing the endorsement of the international community for us opening negotiations directly without a referendum. We’d be returning to our roots.”

HeraldScotland: 'We’ve exhausted all the legal routes to a referendum and it’s clear that neither the Tories nor a future UK Labour government will grant a Section 30 order''We’ve exhausted all the legal routes to a referendum and it’s clear that neither the Tories nor a future UK Labour government will grant a Section 30 order' (Image: Gordon Terris)

She also intends to “re-set” the relationship between the SNP’s Westminster and Holyrood groups. “I’ve been watching closely how events have unfolded in the party recently and it’s clear to me that many of our MPs feel a bit neglected and out of the loop. It’s my intention to be a much more visible presence as leader at Westminster by regularly attending their group meetings.

“And I want to give them the opportunity, where possible, to attend some of our meetings at Holyrood. We need to adopt a far more collegiate approach and deploy all of the talents we have at our disposal properly by appointing the best people to the jobs that best suit their abilities.”

And while stating that it would be premature for her to talk about individuals with more than four weeks of campaigning still to come, she said that she regarded Kate Forbes, her leadership rival, as one of the party’s “top talents”.

“I do not share Kate’s views on issues such as equal marriage, but the true mark of a progressive and enlightened nation is allowing dissenting and sincerely-held views. Kate has been an excellent minister for several years, during which we all knew about her religious beliefs. They have never stood in the way of her doing what she considers best for the party, the government and the people of Scotland.”

She went on to describe her leadership rival as “a close friend” and said her treatment in recent days, some of which she believes was “orchestrated”, has been “despicable”. Ms Forbes has faced an avalanche of criticism for saying that she would have voted against Scotland’s equal marriage legislation.

She added: “If I’m elected to serve there will be some very important jobs up for grabs in my government, and I want to ensure that only the very best people get them, irrespective of whether I agree with them on everything.

“And we have to have the very best people advising us, even if they don’t back independence. What’s important is that they have the gifts and the desire to help us make Scotland better.”

The MSP for Edinburgh Eastern also gave short shrift to reported threats by the Scottish Greens to quit the Scottish Government if she or Ms Forbes were elected, owing to their opposition to the GRR legislation. She said she has “no concerns whatsoever” about the threats by the Greens to quit the Scottish Government if she were to become leader, but said she would be happy to discuss any concerns the Greens might harbour about any issue.

She also said she had no intention of “wasting any more time” on Holyrood’s controversial GRR Bill by challenging the UK Government’s intention to block it with a Section 35 order. “Taking legal action, which I don’t think we’d win, will be very costly,” she said.

“A clear and decisive majority of the Scottish people disagree with self-id. They would rather we focused on the issues affecting their day-to-day lives, and especially the cost-of-living crisis; rising energy bills and improving our health service. But if there was an appetite in the country for it, I’d be happy to hand this over to a citizen’s assembly.”

What’s become clear, though, in the first few days of the leadership contest is that the SNP is grievously divided and to an extent unprecedented in its history. Will the task of healing those divisions risk derailing her wider blueprint for government? Is there a risk that, as well as the Greens, MSPs in her own party will be unhappy if she becomes leader?

“I really don’t think so,” she said. I think that what’s sorely needed to re-energise and re-unite is a willingness to listen to people in our party and to value them, rather than to adopt a top-down approach. I don’t think that’s ever worked.”