Angela Constance said she has no ambition to be Deputy First Minister when Nicola Sturgeon relinquishes the role to replace Alex Salmond, but wants to dedicate herself to preparing the SNP rank-and-file for the next bid for Scottish independence.
Nationalists will get another opportunity for independence “sooner or later” and must be ready, the Cabinet Secretary for Training and Youth and Women’s Employment said in a new campaign website.
“There will be many distractions and compromises over the coming months,” she said.
“There is a temptation for any political party to become satisfied with what it has achieved, even where that falls short of the ideal.
“As deputy leader of the SNP, I shall argue that we, as a party, must stay focused on the goal of an independent Scotland.
“We cannot know when, or under what circumstances, the opportunity to create an independent Scotland will next arise. But that opportunity will come, sooner or later. We must be ready.”
Ms Constance said the SNP’s elected representatives should co-operate with the cross-party Smith Commission on devolution to “get the best deal they can”.
But she added: “Never ever forget that every concession Scotland wins from Westminster is only won because of the prospect of Independence. The final two weeks of the referendum campaign could not have made that any clearer.
“Therefore, the grassroots of the party must continue to campaign for independence, find better ways to argue for independence and build a more formidable activist base for independence not only to ensure we are as well prepared as we possibly can be when we get our next opportunity to win independence but also to provide the best possible environment for our elected representatives to deliver the best result they can in the meantime.”
She added: “I have no ambition to become Deputy First Minister. My primary interest in being SNP depute leader is to make certain that the democracy of our party - where every voice is listened to, and where every member’s vote is equal - remains not just intact, but is defended at all costs.
“We shall not become like Labour, where a member is ejected from conference for challenging the leadership, or where disabled members are asked to move from their seats to make way for ‘bright young things’.”
Ms Constance wants to remove the “special privileges that parliamentarians have in the policy-making forums of the SNP” and “ensure that our decision making is always as close to the grass roots of the party as possible”.
“Ensuring over 80,000 members play their part and are given their due place in our party is an immense task,” she said.
“To get this right will require focus, a focus I believe would not be possible if the depute leader of the SNP was also Deputy First Minister, given the party has trebled in size.
“The roles are entirely different and I believe our First Minister and our party membership each deserve to have the support of a dedicated deputy.”
Ms Constance has made a direct appeal to the tens of thousands of new SNP members who joined in the wake of the referendum, many of whom will have attained voting rights before the cut-off point of September 23 and will have equal representation under the SNP’s one-member-one-vote system.
She faces competition from Transport Minister Keith Brown who claims the support of over half of Holyrood’s SNP MSPs, including a clutch of ministers, as well as a number of councillors and senior grassroots organisers.
Westminster treasury spokesman Stuart Hosie is also standing on a platform of securing the maximum number of SNP MPs at the next general election, which he says should not be seen as a re-run of the referendum but an opportunity to hold Westminster’s “feet to the fire” over unionist devolution pledges.