HUMZA Yousaf has marked another milestone in his premiership with an appearance before Holyrood’s collected committee conveners.

The 90-minute session was supposed to look at the policy prospectus he launched in mid-April which took equality, opportunity and community as its watchwords.

But the twice-yearly grilling of the First Minister often takes an unexpected turn.

One notably surreal session in 2016, much to Nicola Sturgeon's bafflement, strayed into beavers and sea lice, for instance.

The unexpected element at Mr Yousaf’s debut was arguably how he took it in his stride.

There was little sense that here was someone who had only been First Minister for a few weeks, far from it. 

True, these meetings are rarely explosive. Unlike FMQs, where the boss of the day is peppered with rapid-fire abuse, the committee conveners are a far more genteel lot.

This is in part because they are not speaking just for themselves but are there to channel the concerns of the cross-party committee they represent.

Of course, partisanship still shows through. 

The questions from Tory Edward Mountain, who convenes the Net Zero Committee, were blunt in delivery but sharp in intent. Mr Yousaf flannelled in response.

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While the SNP’s John Mason, on behalf of Finance and Public Administration, seemed absurdly grateful for any scrap from the FM’s table.

“Even a rough estimate, even if it's a range of estimates, just anything in that space is better than nothing,” he said when pleading for ministers to put price tags on their legislation.

But for the most part, the conveners meeting is whatever the First Minister chooses to make of it, rather than what the conveners can make out of the First Minister. 

The pace is slower than in the chamber, the questioning frequently under-arm, and the replies disarmingly courteous. It doesn’t feel like regular Holyrood at all.

More pulpit than bearpit, the First Minister is free to expand on their vision for running the country and to project a more personable side to their character.

Ms Sturgeon was an expert at doing this, reeling off facts from a sheaf of notes, but also becoming chatty at points, charming rather than lecturing.

Instead of using paper notes, Mr Yousaf read his stats from a laptop that seemed to be being fed handy updates by his office, but otherwise he followed Ms Sturgeon’s wise example.

He was relentlessly reasonable. 

He commended conveners on the fairness of their questions. His opponents’ points were often valid, sometimes “very valid”. He wanted to strike the right balance where possible. 

He wanted to be as transparent as possible in government. He was all for faster answers to freedom of information requests. If he could publish something, he would.

Virtually whatever was asked of him, he would go off and consider it, often jotting down a few words to underline his seriousness of purpose. 

Please note, he rarely promised to do anything concrete, but somehow that calculated vagueness was lost in the waves of empathy washing over the room.


The mood was occasionally broken by Mr Yousaf slipping back into FMQs mode.

Mention of the UK Government saw him go on the attack, accusing the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly of being “incredibly clumsy” by trying to gag Scottish ministers overseas.

Mr Yousaf said he’d said as much to Rishi Sunak when they last met.

He was “frustrated” that although the PM was willing to listen to the Scottish Government’s arguments, there was nevertheless a “continual undermining of our devolution”, and “all the cordial meetings in the world” wouldn’t change that.

Like any savvy politician, Mr Yousaf also came with some genuine news, pre-empting a letter which his justice secretary was due to send to a committee later in the week.

This confirmed that the Scottish Government was backing a pilot to allow the victims of sexual crimes to get free access to their trial transcripts, something which at present can cost thousands of pounds, even though they might be vital to pursue other proceedings. 

It followed the case of former Glasgow University student Ellie Wilson who had to crowdfund more than £3000 to back up a complaint about the advocate who defended her rapist.

All in all, it was a positive, polished session for the First Minister. No gaffes. No U-turns. No...

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