This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Humza Yousaf is getting about. Over the weekend, while Scottish Labour had its conference in Glasgow and Anas Sarwar openly speculated about his Bute House years, the First Minister high-tailed up to the North East.

After taking in Moray, Fraserburgh and Lossiemouth, he spent Monday morning in the centre of Aberdeen giving a speech on SNP energy policy.

I say SNP policy. It was as much about Labour’s plans to extend and increase the windfall tax on energy companies and historic Tory perfidy over oil wealth as any SNP policy.

With a general election ahoy, it’s not surprising for party leaders to tour constituencies.

But given the demands on Mr Yousaf’s time, it’s useful to note his choices.

This weekend it was Moray West, Nairn and Strathspey, which following boundary changes will be the successor to the Moray seat currently held by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross in his role as an MP.

Mr Ross is standing down at the election to focus on Holyrood, and the new seat is a toss-up between the SNP and Tories.

The other seat Mr Yousaf visited was Aberdeenshire North and Moray East, the successor to Banff & Buchan, defended by Tory MP David Duguid.

Two time-consuming tours of large rural seats, both in the North East, both tilting Tory.

Mr Yousaf’s spiel was that he was out campaigning to “ensure Scotland is Tory-free” by helping SNP candidates topple the last half-dozen survivors.

The Herald: Humza Yousaf
But while confidence and progress is always the official line – there are no setbacks, independence is closer each day – the reality is somewhat different.

Rather than indicating strength, it telegraphs anxiety and weakness.

On Monday, Mr Yousaf dismissed the Tories as “finished, a busted flush, done, good riddance to them”. That hardly squares with going to gee up the SNP activists fighting them.

A key reason the SNP is, privately, not at all sure the Tories are kaput, despite the meltdown at Westminster, was shown by what else Mr Yousaf talked about in Aberdeen: oil and gas.

For months, the Tories have monstered the FM over his SNP-Green Government's just transition plans for a Net Zero economy.

The SNP’s presumption against new oil and gas licensing, and the party’s proximity to the Greens, has given the fossil-fuelled Tories a lifeline with which to whip the nationalists.

The Conservatives have set themselves up as defenders of the 100,000 jobs linked to tapping North Sea hydrocarbons, and very productive it’s been for them.

Next week, Mr Ross brings his party conference back to Aberdeen to reinforce the point.

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And it’s not just the SNP he’ll lambast. Labour’s plan to keep the 2022 windfall tax on energy company profits going to 2029 and raise it from 75 to 78% has been a boon for the Tories, underscoring the difference with their opponents at the election.

The issue shot to the top of the political agenda last week as 1000 employers and individuals in the North East warned the policy could cost up to 100,000 jobs. It’s a dubious claim. 

But the energy companies know an election year is a good time to squeeze politicians with some shroud-waving in the hope of lower tax and slower, easier moves towards Net Zero.

Mr Yousaf’s speech was partly about raining on Mr Ross’s parade, but also jumping on the bandwagon against Labour’s windfall tax so voters don't keep scowling at the SNP.

His own plan was vague. He’d keep the windfall tax at 75% for an indefinite period. He was also coy about his Greens partners wanting a far tougher windfall tax. Ask them, he said.

But it wasn’t really about details or facts. It was about sending a message that the SNP isn’t as hostile to the rigs as you might think – not like Labour and its awful scheme to do a Thatcher and make North Sea workers the new miners. 

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All of which indicates the SNP are scrabbling to defend their reputation with once supportive North East voters and are worried about even “busted flush” Tories beating them. 

Mr Yousaf can read polls. The SNP is likely to lose a lot of MPs, and perhaps the election overall in Scotland, puncturing visions of independence and putting his job on the slates.

Boasting he got rid of the Tories was a fallback position to save his skin. Now that looks a challenge too. The North East no longer offers the SNP a safe harbour.