The First Minister was compared to 'Comical Ali' in new row over rhetoric in Scotland's ferry fiasco.

It came as Humza Yousaf came under pressure to act over what was described as "unprecedented" disruption to lifeline ferry services as a series of ageing vessels have needed repairs following an annual overhaul.

While being quizzed by Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar over failures to deal with the crisis, the First Minister and former transport minister said: "I of course recognise the challenges those who rely on our ferry services... have suffered in the last few weeks, particularly given the Easter tourism season. But let me also speak very clearly to those communities that we understand not just their frustration, but we are taking action to ensure that we bolster the ferry network services.

"So this is of course a very serious matter raised by Anas Sarwar But we are a government that is taking action to ensure that we have resilience on our ferries network."

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But during First Minister's questions, Mr Sarwar hit back: "That was a great example of what's become typical of this leadership in the last three weeks. Comical Ali. Everything's fine, while the house burns down behind us. Island communities will not believe those excuses from the minister."

The Herald: First Minister Humza Yousaf said Scots are more concerned about the cost of living than the SNP’s internal struggles (Robert Perry/PA)

Mr Yousaf bristled at the comparisons to the Iraqi former diplomat and politician Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf describing it as a "silly personal attack"

Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf  served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1992 to 2001 and came to worldwide prominence around the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

As Minister of Information under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, he acted as spokesman for the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party and Saddam's government.

He was nicknamed Baghdad Bob or Comical Ali for his notable and colourful television appearances.  They included denials that there were any American tanks in Baghdad, when in fact they were only several hundred metres away from the press conference where he was speaking and the combat sounds of nearing American troops could already be heard in the background.

Mr Sarwar went on to tell MSPs: "The First Minister and this government are totally out of touch. Six years ago Humza Yousaf as transport minister made a promise to fix this. But this SNP government has failed to get a grip and its financial mismanagement has cost us hundreds of millions of pounds.

"But it has also cost people on the islands dearly too. The impact on the local economy has been devastating. One report has estimated that loss of the Lochboisdale fo Mallaig ferry alone cost nearly £50,000 a day. That's almost double the average annual salary on the island. As one business put it, no ferry, means no income. no jobs, no people. And the businesses in Uist have asked the Scottish Government to compensate them for their losses.

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"Last year Transport Scotland took millions of pounds in fines from CalMac because of the lack of services. So will the First Minister commit to compensating islanders and at the very least pass on the fines that the government have collected from CalMac to the people affected by this crisis."

Mr Yousaf hit back: "I'll look at any proposals that are suggested by anybody across the chamber, including the one that Anas Sarwar has just mentioned there. I completely accept and I'm unequivocal in saying that the government understands and regrets any delays and disruptions that have impacted our island communities.

"What doesn't help island communities is sound bites and the really easy sound bites from Anas Sarwar, not in any attempt to provide any solutions, but silly personal attacks around Comical Ali. That's not going to help those in our island communities one single bit.

"What will help island communities of course, is delivering major vessels, six new major vessels to serve Scotland's ferry network by 2026. That is a priority for this government."

The First Minister then said that only 1.1% of cancelled services were down to technical issues in 2022.

He said with just a 6.6% cancellation rate "the vast majority of scheduled sailings do take place when they are meant to".