SNP Westminster chief Stephen Flynn is backing Humza Yousaf to become Scotland’s next first minister.
The Dundee-born MP tops a long list of senior party figures who now favour Mr Yousaf succeeding Nicola Sturgeon in the top job.
Mr Flynn, who became Westminster leader in December, said the health secretary’s childcare plans and energy policies for the north-east convinced him he was the best man for the job.
Ms Sturgeon and her deputy, John Swinney, are yet to formally endorse anyone, which makes Mr Flynn the most senior SNP politician to declare who he wants to win.
He told The Courier: “The public are crying out for hope right now.
“I’ve listened closely to all three candidates and their plans to tackle the economic challenges facing us and I believe Humza is best placed to offer that hope.”
Mr Flynn’s House of Commons SNP deputy Mhairi Black has already backed Mr Yousaf.
Former SNP Westminster chief Ian Blackford also supports Dundee-based Mr Yousaf’s bid.
The health secretary’s campaign team said the fact he had been backed by the party’s No1 and No2 in London showed he is best-placed to unite the independence movement.
‘Focused on delivering’
Mr Flynn added: “His plan to fast track the expansion of childcare and support parents with upfront childcare costs can be a real game changer.
“Coupled with his belief in the necessity for both energy security and an energy transition that protects the climate and people’s jobs – it’s clear that Humza is focused on delivering for our economy.”
The Aberdeen South MP said he will officially cast his ballot for Glasgow Pollok MSP Mr Yousaf on Monday, two weeks before the contest ends.
He has pitched himself to SNP members as the continuity candidate best-placed to carry on her legacy if he takes power.
However, polling indicates Ms Forbes still has a chance of winning the race and she has been heavily critical of Mr Yousaf’s record in government.
During an explosive STV debate on Tuesday, she claimed he was responsible for record A&E waiting times as health chief and said he had failed in all of his major briefs.
Supporters of Mr Yousaf’s campaign in the north and north-east were stunned by her attack on him and warned SNP feuding risked undermining the party.