HUMZA Yousaf has denied intentionally skipping the key Holyrood vote on gay marriage despite setting up a diary clash with it 19 days in advance.

The frontrunner in the SNP leadership race insisted he had missed Stage 3 of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill in 2014 “for good reason”.

Mr Yousaf, the only SNP minister to miss the vote, also suggested the issue was being "resurrected" to undermine his leadership bid.

The Health Secretary told ITV Border that he had been meeting the Pakistan consulate over the case of a Scottish citizen on death row for blasphemy.

However the condemned man wasn’t sentenced until a week after Mr Yousaf arranged the meeting, meaning he was not on death row when it was set up.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes this week lost the support of many colleagues when she said she would opposed the gay marriage vote if she had been an MSP at the time.

Mr Yousaf, the MSP for Glasgow Pollok, voted for the general principle of the Bill in November 2013, but missed the final Stage 3 vote on 4 February 2014.

At the time, he was the Scottish Government’s minister for external affairs, while the gay marriage vote was opposed by many Muslim leaders in Scotland.

Mr Yousaf's ministerial diary records show that on 14 January 2014, the then minister for parliamentary business Joe FitzPatrick requested that he attend the Holyrood chamber for the marriage vote on 4 February.

Two later, Mr Yousaf himself then requested a meeting with the Pakistan Consul General in Glasgow on 4 February, thereby creating a clash with the gay marriage vote.

It was only a week later, on 24 January, that Mohammad Ashgar, a 69-year-old Scot with a history of mental illness, was sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan.

Asked at the time why he had been absent from the vote, Mr Yousaf wrote on Twitter: “Had ministerial engagement arranged beforehand but signed pledge, voted for stage one and v public about my (continued) support!”

Asked if 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.”

Asked last night on ITV Border about missing the Stage 3l vote and whether he could have rearranged his diary to be there, he said he had missed it “for good reason”.

He said: “I was meeting the Pakistan consulate over a very important case that was a Scottish citizen in Pakistan on death row for the issue of blasphemy.

“So it was not a meeting that I felt could be avoided. But also I had stated very publicly by that point as well, very publicly, my support for equal marriage.”

Asked about his diaries showing he requested the meeting with the Pakistan Consul almost three weeks in advance of the vote, and whether he was under any pressure from his community to miss it, Mr Yousaf said: “The community knows my views.

“I won’t lie to you, there will be some difficult conversations sometimes with what you describe as ‘my community’. 

“I assume you mean the Muslim community. I belong to many communities. 

“But there was certainly [that], I would say even in my support for example of GRR.

“But I will explain my position because I’m confident in  my position.

“My position is a very simple one. I’m a minority in this country. 

“I believe that my rights don’t exist in a vacuum. If I want to advance my rights, want to advance other people’s rights, they are interdependent on each other.

“I have no problem saying to you, unequivocally, as I did in 2014, that I support equality for all.”

Pressed again on whether he had deliberately avoided the final vote on gay marriage, the Health Secretary said: “No.”

Asked after FMQs by Sky News if he had set up his diary clash to avoid the vote, Mr Yousaf said: “I’ve said already 'No'. It’s incredible that in the years that have proceeded since then than nobody has ever raised the issue.

"It seems to me somewhat convenient that it’s happening during [my] election leadership bid.

“What I would say very clearly to you is my track on equalities, anybody can see, and I’m clear, that I wasn't to continue the social progress of this government.”

Asked how it looked for him to have been the only SNP minister to have missed the vote, Mr Yousaf said: “The fact that I voted for it of course at Stage 1, the fact that I was publicly in support of it at the time, the fact that I have supported bills like the GRR, I think my track record speaks for itself.

"We are in the middle of a leadership campaign and the fact that you have resurrected this issue almost 10 years on, shows it’s probably more to do with the leadership contest than anything else.”