Humza Yousaf has defended inviting Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Scotland and denied that the offer was linked to Turkey's decision to give his wife's family short-term refugee status.

The First Minister insisted that if the offer was taken up he would raise human rights with the Turkish president, whose regime has overseen a brutal crackdown on the country's Kurdish community, eroded judicial independence, curbed freedom of speech, and jailed journalists and politicians. 

Though he said he would do that "in a way that also recognises we're on a human rights journey as are other countries."

Details of the invite emerged in a read-out of a meeting between the two men at COP28 on December 1, released to The Herald through Freedom of Information. 

The summit sparked a diplomatic row with the UK Government as it took place without a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) representative.

READ MORE: Diplomatic row over Erdogan meeting escalates

The note, sent to the embassy in Dubai, states: "FM mentioned he was last in Turkey during Ramadan in 2022 and invited RTE to visit Scotland during a future visit to the UK.

"FM noted that their wives had met during the recent First Ladies and spouses of Leader’s Summit on Gaza in Turkey [on November 15]”.

President Erdoğan's side of the conversation has been redacted, with the Scottish Government claiming that revealing it could “prejudice substantially relations between the United Kingdom and any other State.”

However, the document suggests the Turkish leader asked about the First Minister’s family as Mr Yousaf “replied that it had been a frightening time given the lack of communication but they were now safe at home and recovering”.

The note also reveals that the two men spoke about the two-state solution, the Hamas attacks on October 7, and the need “for an immediate ceasefire as too many innocent civilians had already been killed in Gaza.”

Mr Yousaf was quizzed on the invite following Thursday's First Minister's Questions.

Asked why he had invited President Erdoğan to Scotland, he replied: "Well, of course, I said the next time he's in the United Kingdom why not come up to Scotland? Turkey is a Nato ally. Why would we not wish to have a Nato ally here?"

Asked about the President's treatment of the Kurds,  Mr Yousaf said: "The UK government regularly engages with Turkey as a Nato ally. It is an important regional player.

"Why on earth would Scotland not look to seek to engage with a Nato ally and of course somebody we seek to do business and trade with?"

Asked if he would raise human rights concerns, Mr Yousaf replied: "I would raise human rights as I tend to do whenever I have meetings with international leaders, but I should say of course, we do that in a way that also recognises we're on a human rights journey as other countries."

Last week, the First Minister's wife, Nadia El-Nakla revealed that her sister-in-law and their four children had escaped from Gaza after an intervention by the Turkish government before Christmas.

In November, she attended a United for Peace in Palestine summit in Istanbul organised by First Lady Emine Erdoğan with the spouses of leaders. 

The Herald:

Asked if the invite was linked to Ankara's decision to give his wife's family short-term refugee status, Mr Yousaf simply replied: "No."

READ MORE: Yousaf triggered diplomatic row by meeting Turkey's President Erdogan

The meeting between the two men without a UK Government representative infuriated Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who wrote to Angus Robertson to complain.

He threatened to close down Scottish Government offices in embassies and high consulates.

The Scottish Government said the snub to the FCDO had not been deliberate but because the meeting had been arranged with “just a few minutes' notice."

However, emails and WhatsApp messages released under Freedom Of Information to us suggest there was an hour-and-a-half between the meeting with President Erdoğan being offered and the Scottish Government officials emailing their counterparts in the UK Government.

The correspondence also revealed that Mr Yousaf went into the meeting without a proper briefing as the Scottish Government document was “never finalised” and “was not cleared by senior officials or used to brief the First Minister ahead of his meeting with President Erdoğan ."

​The correspondence released to The Herald shows it was the First Minister himself who requested the meeting with the Turkish delegation at COP28.

His aides reached out to the Turkish consulate in Edinburgh on November 30.

At 6:50pm, one of his officials told colleagues that they had a "chance for a quick brush by" with somebody from the Turkish government the next day, though at that point they did not know who.

The meeting was added to the First Minister’s programme “as a tbc at 3pm.”

At 11:46 am the next day, the Scottish Government emailed the FCDO to alert them to the meeting in the afternoon, but did not mention the time.

The messages then show that the Scottish Government found out at 1:19pm that a meeting with President Erdoğan was possible, however, it required them to get to the Turkish pavilion immediately.

The Whatsapp from a Scottish Government official read: "Turkey president offering to meet FM now in World Leader Summit"

"He is doing pull asides" another message read.

Mr Yousaf had just left the building but was content to go back in through security to meet with the president.

An official then told one of the First Minister's Special Advisers that they "can’t confirm timings" and that it would depend on when President Erdoğan left the world leaders summit.

At 2pm, one official asks, "When is the meeting?" another answers "now, if we can make it."

Fifteen minutes later another aide warned, "meeting not happening if we don’t move now."

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf: SNP councillor 'disgusted’ by FM picture with Erdogan

When Mr Yousaf met with President Erdoğan, Kurdish-born SNP councillor Roza Salih, said she was “disappointed and disgusted” by the First Minister.

In a social media post, she wrote: “I am disappointed and disgusted by this image @HumzaYousaf. Erdogan kills #Kurds in Turkey & does not respect human rights.

“Our politicians & half of the population are imprisoned by him and you shake his hand. I did not expect this from a FM that says he respects human rights.”

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.