TRANSPORT secretary Humza Yousaf maintains lives were saved by the Government's response to the heaviest snowfall in Scotland for 20 years.

He rejected claims that he and his department has been unable to cope with harsh weather conditions that nations with similar climates routinely deal with.

At least 48 people have died across the continent during the the present emergency, including 18 in Poland, four in France and two in Italy.

He said: "I went to the Netherlands as a minister previously and spoke to folk there who told me that when they had storms there many people died." One elderly skater died in the Dutch village of Hank on Friday when he plunged through the ice.

"When we had storms in Scotland we didn't get to the situation where people died. This comparison with the continent isn't faultless."

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Yousaf, Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney have held of series of meetings of the Scottish Government’s Resilience Room – the country's national emergency committee – to discuss the response to the severe weather.

However, Yousaf said the government had been planning for a heavy snowfall since last summer.

Speaking from the national emergency control centre in Glasgow's Queen Street, he defended his response to the extreme winter weather.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Herald, Yousaf said: "There was an accumulation of snow beyond what had been expected. This is not a normal weather event as we've never had a red warning for snow in Scotland before.

"But we were prepared for it and we've put a safety plan to work. We've treated it as what it is, an emergency situation."

The minister said that the Government has worked with public agencies like Traffic Scotland and councils to ensure roads were gritted. He said there were regular conference calls to share information and intelligence between the emergency services, traffic agencies and local authorities.

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The safety plan centred on propagating a consistent message telling people not to travel.

Yousaf, the MSP for Glasgow Pollok, said this had saved lives and prevented large numbers of people being stranded.

He said: "This is the most chilling weather for years so we were determined from the outset to make sure people got these regular updates.

"We have had to take a judgment about the messaging and it was about having one that was pretty clear and crisp and saying do not travel unless it is absolutely necessary to do so."

Yousaf said: "We had had all the different agencies providing advice." He added: "We've had control room staff on 24/7.

"We've tried to get the gritters out and tried to plan for the worst case scenario at all times to prevent people getting stranded."

The minister said there had also been a co-ordinated attempt to blitz social media with travel warnings.

"We've tended to put that message out as much as possible on social media," he said.

He had been determined to "learn the lessons" of the last sustained bout of extreme winter weather in 2010, he added.

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The then transport minister Stewart Stevenson resigned over his handling of the travel chaos when snow and ice brought much of central Scotland's road network to a standstill.

In his resignation statement Stevenson admitted he "could have done much more to ensure that members of the public were better informed of the situation".

Yousaf confessed he had a "knot in his stomach" when he saw snow falling and heard about the so-called "Beast from the East".

However, he claimed the Government had learned lessons since 2010 by ensuring there were constant updates for the public about the worsening situation.

Yousaf said: "Any minister would be lying if they said they didn't get a knot in their stomach about wanting to keep people safe when they see snow falling.

"The main lesson learned from 2010 is that we decided that we needed a really crisp message with as much detail as possible.

"We knew what was coming and we met with representatives of all the agencies to ensure that we've had a 24/7 response."

Yousaf said weather experts informed him last week's snowfall had been "worse" than that of 2010.