Twice as many Scots think Humza Yousaf would be a bad first minister compared with those who think he would do a good job, a new poll has suggested.
More than six of out 10 Scots polled also think Mr Yousaf is doing a bad job of running the crisis-hit NHS, according to the damning poll published as he said independence would be his top priority if he becomes first minister.
The YouGov survey for Sky News found 44 per cent thought Mr Yousaf would be a bad first minister compared with only 22 per cent who said he would do a good job.
Asked about his leadership rivals, 27 per cent thought Kate Forbes would be a good first minister and 36 per cent a bad leader. The figures for Ash Regan were 14 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively.
The same poll found that 62 per cent of people thought the Scottish Government was handling the health service badly, with only 30 per cent saying it was doing well.
Even among SNP voters, more than a third (37 per cent) thought the Sturgeon government was performing poorly on the NHS, amid widespread doubts about Mr Yousaf’s competence.
But, despite the litany of problems afflicting the NHS, the health secretary told an SNP leadership TV debate that breaking apart the UK would be his top priority if he wins the contest.
The poll also found that Mr Yousaf, the frontrunner in the race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon, was the candidate who the public thought would be the weakest, least competent and most untrustworthy first minister.
Only six per cent of respondents said they thought he would do a better job than Ms Sturgeon, a figure that fell to five per cent for SNP voters.
All three candidates scored poorly with the public but Ms Forbes, the finance secretary, was viewed as the most competent and trustworthy leader.
Mr Yousaf explained her superior ratings during the Sky News debate by claiming she appealed to Tories, while repelling SNP supporters over her views on gay marriage.
However, Ms Forbes said she could win over Labour voters and asked him: “How are you going to deliver independence if the public don’t have confidence in you?”
The Scottish Tories said it was “clear the SNP’s brutal civil war is repelling voters – who have no faith in any of the three candidates”.
Craig Hoy, the Scottish Conservative chairman, said: “The real priorities facing the people of Scotland are being completely ignored by all three candidates as they play out their civil war in public.”
The TV debate was held as SNP members started casting their votes. The contest will be decided on a single transferable vote system, meaning the second preferences of those supporting the third candidate, Ms Regan, may be crucial.
The poll of 1,002 Scots was conducted between March 9 and 13.
Health secretary worst for negative traits
Asked who would be better than Ms Sturgeon, 17 per cent of Scots thought Ms Forbes would be an improvement, eight per cent Ms Regan and six per cent Mr Yousaf.
Ms Forbes also received the highest ratings for being a strong leader (28 per cent), competent (37 per cent) and trustworthy (30 per cent).
In contrast Mr Yousaf had the highest figures for negative traits, with 39 per cent saying he would be a weak leader, 40 per cent saying he would be incompetent and 42 per cent saying he was untrustworthy.
The poll also found support for independence was 46 per cent when undecided voters were excluded, the same level as in February.
Pressed by Beth Rigby, Sky News’s political editor, about whether separation would be his top priority as first minister, Mr Yousaf said: “Yes, independence is my top priority. It helps us to resolve the challenges we’re facing with our public services.”
Challenged why he polled so poorly with the public, the health secretary said: “I’ve had 10-and-a-half years of having the most difficult and toughest jobs in government.”
He said he had quadrupled his public support since the start of the campaign. However, this claim was based on a poll conducted after Ms Sturgeon announced she was resigning, when there were at least nine possible candidates to replace her.
‘I’m able to inspire people’
Arguing he is 19 points ahead among SNP voters, he said: “That’s in three weeks. If I’m able to inspire people, not just in three weeks but in three months, I genuinely believe that will not only grow support for our party but for independence.”
Pressed by Ms Forbes why voters thought she would be a more competent first minister in every policy area, including health, he said the polls showed she appealed to Tory voters but “you’ve managed to drop support quite significantly” among SNP supporters.
Mr Yousaf said the finance Secretary had not had a “public service delivery role” in government, adding: “Amongst the SNP support, you’ve managed to plummet – your support and your ratings have dropped.”
However, Ms Forbes hit back, saying the first minister “should appeal to more than just SNP members” if the party is to achieve independence.