HUMZA Yousaf is facing questions over his record on gay marriage after it emerged he arranged a meeting that clashed with a key vote, ensuring he missed it.  

Mr Yousaf claimed at the time he could not avoid discussing the case of a Scot on death row in Pakistan, but records show he set up the meeting before the man was sentenced.

The Health Secretary was today catapulted to the front of the SNP leadership race after his main rival said she would have voted against gay marriage if she had been as MSP.

Kate Forbes said she could not have supported the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill when it went through Holyrood in 2013 and 2014.

Ms Forbes was not elected as an MSP until 2016, however her statement that she would have treated gay marriage as a “conscience issue” alienated many of her colleagues.

A series of former backers, including MSPs Richard Lochhead, Gillian Martin, Claire Haughey and Tom Arthur and  MP Drew Hendry, all later withdrew their support.

Mr Yousaf said last night that although a proud Muslim, he would never use his faith “as a basis of legislation”.

READ MORE: Kate Forbes may have breached SNP rules on transphobia

The row has resurrected questions about his own record on same sex marriage Bill, which was opposed by many Muslim leaders at the time.

Mr Yousaf, the MSP for Glasgow Pollok, backed the general principles of the Bill when it went to parliament in November 2013, but missed the vital final vote in February 2014.

Responding on Twitter to questions about his absence on the day, Mr Yousaf, who was then the external affairs ministers, said he had a prior meeting he couldn’t avoid.

He wrote: “Had ministerial engagement arranged beforehand but signed pledge, voted for stage one and v public about my (continued) support!”

Pressed on whether his absence had been “unavoidable”, Mr Yousaf replied: “Meeting Pakistan Consul discussing Scot on death row accused under Blasphemy Law not one could/want avoid.”

This appears to be a reference to Mohammad Asghar, an elderly man from Edinburgh with a history of mental illness.

However Mr Yousaf arranged his meeting with the consul just two days after being told to be in parliament for the vote, and a week before Mr Ashgar was sentenced.

The Herald:

The day after Mr Yousaf missed the Stage 3 gay marriage vote, then Labour MSP Mary Fee tabled a very specific written parliament question about his diary.

It asked for his appointments for the day of the vote, 4 February 2014, when they were added and by whom.

This revealed then minister for parliamentary business Joe FitzPatrick requested on 14 January 2014 that Mr Yousaf be present in the chamber for the gay marriage vote.

Two days later, on 16 January, Mr Yousaf himself requested a meeting with the Pakistan Consul General in Glasgow on the day of the vote, 19 days later, thereby creating a clash.

It was more than a week later, on 24 January, that Mr Ashgar was sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, meaning his “death row” status was not known when Mr Yousaf set up the meeting with the Pakistan Consul General.

Lawyers for Mr Ashgar, who was arrested in Pakistan in September 2010, argued he was mentally unfit to be tried. 

A spokesperson for Mr Yousaf's campaign said: "Humza Yousaf unequivocally supports equal marriage, and has a track record of supporting LGBTI+ rights.

"As Humza explained at the time of the vote, he had an extremely important engagement which involved trying
to secure the release of a Scottish national sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan."