Bitter divisions and infighting rocked the party as the first two MSPs confirmed they intended to launch leadership bids.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and former community safety minister Ash Regan clashed on three major policy issues – independence, gender reform and road-building – as they confirmed their decision to stand in the contest.
Mr Yousaf also appeared to be winning support from many of Miss Sturgeon’s key allies, while a briefing campaign was launched against Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, who still has not said if she will run.
SNP deputy leader Keith Brown, Environment Minister Mairi McAllan and Culture Minister Neil Gray all yesterday confirmed that they would not stand, while Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson has so far remained silent.
As the quarrelling escalated, former health secretary Jeane Freeman urged those briefing against each other to stop fighting or risk losing support.
Health Secreatary Humza Yousaf appeared to be winning support from many of Miss Sturgeon’s key allies
Scottish Tory deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said: ‘It is increasingly clear that Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, far from quelling the enormous divisions within the SNP, has only amplified them.
‘The SNP are split from top to bottom on policy and personality, with senior figures knocking lumps out of each other in public. We see these splits in the two leadership campaigns to launch so far, with Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan at odds with each other over independence strategy and gender reform.
‘The public rifts reveal a party in a state of civil war. The SNP are like a nest of vipers, with bitter policy and personality disagreements all over the place.’
Mr Yousaf, 37, the MSP for Glasgow Pollok, will today formally launch his campaign at an event in Clydebank, Dunbartonshire.
In a campaign video, he attempted to portray himself as the experienced choice of the SNP establishment by paying tribute to the ‘exceptional’ outgoing First Minister and by highlighting that he has ‘been trusted by Nicola Sturgeon with some of the toughest jobs in government’.
He also claimed that he has the skills to reach across the divide to ‘bring people together’ in his party and the country.
Mr Yousaf indicated he would press ahead with a legal challenge to the UK Government’s decision to block the SNP’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from gaining royal assent, telling the Sunday Mail ‘this overreach by the UK Government is something that we need to defend against’.
Mr Yousaf and former community safety minister Ash Regan (pictured) clashed on three major policy issues – independence, gender reform and road-building – as they confirmed their decision to stan
The father of two denied he is the ‘continuity candidate’ and appeared to distance himself from Miss Sturgeon’s attempt to turn the general election into a ‘de facto referendum’ saying he would look to ‘have a conversation across the country’ about independence rather than going ahead with a one-day special SNP conference on the issue.
Mr Yousaf also backed the SNP Government’s decision to delay the 2025 date for completing the project to dual the A9.
Scottish Tory health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: ‘Humza Yousaf ought to have been sacked as health secretary months ago, so the idea that he’s a credible candidate for promotion to First Minister is astonishing.
‘He’s been exposed as the worst health secretary since devolution, having presided over the biggest crisis in our health service’s history.’
Miss Regan clashed with Mr Yousaf on all of the key policy issues. She pledged to call an independence convention on day one of her leadership, and signalled that she would look to work with Alba Party leader Alex Salmond and other separatist parties.
She also indicated she would seek to turn every election into a ‘de facto referendum’, saying: ‘I propose that we take control of the process towards independence ourselves.
It has been claimed that ‘Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, far from quelling the enormous divisions within the SNP, has only amplified them’
As the quarrelling escalated, former health secretary Jeane Freeman urged those briefing against each other to stop fighting or risk losing support
‘If pro-independence parties, with a clear mandate for such actions in their manifestos, have more than 50 per cent plus one of the votes cast in a Westminster or Holyrood election this will be a clear instruction that Scotland wishes to be an independent nation.
‘We will invite the Westminster Government to the Scottish Government to commence negotiations and set a time frame for Scotland’s withdrawal from the UK.’
Miss Regan also clashed with Mr Yousaf by vowing to make the completion of the A9 and A96 dualling a key priority,
In a separate interview with the Sunday Mail, she pledged to scrap the ‘extremely flawed’ GRR Bill, saying: ‘Women’s rights will never be compromised with me.’
Miss Gallacher said: ‘I think Ash Regan was right to reject Nicola Sturgeon’s GRR Bill, but she’s got it badly wrong with her divisive leadership pitch.
‘It’s hard to imagine the SNP becoming more obsessed with independence than they already are, but Ash Regan promises to be Sturgeon-on-steroids when it comes to the constitution.’
Mr Gray yesterday announced that he was supporting Mr Yousaf and not standing in the contest himself, saying ‘now is not the right time for me’.
Mr Brown, who is also the Justice Secretary, said that he would look to remain SNP deputy leader to provide ‘a degree of continuity as we come to terms with Nicola’s resignation’ but added that he will not endorse a candidate.
Miss McAllan, a former special adviser to Miss Sturgeon said ‘now is not the right time for me to seek the very top job’.
Speaking on BBC Scotland’s the Sunday Show, Miss Freeman, a close ally of Miss Sturgeon, urged colleagues involved in infighting to ‘just grow up’, adding: ‘You will achieve nothing by taking lumps out of each other.’