In some parts of the Scottish Conservative party, there is no greater insult than to be compared to the former SNP leader.

There are people who would sooner be ritually humiliated by Gordon Ramsay than likened – quick, cross yourself and grab the garlic – to Nicola Sturgeon.

To Douglas Ross, it must have seemed a devastating put-down when he called Humza Yousaf “a poor Nicola Sturgeon tribute act”.

The problem for the Scottish Tories is that in the eyes of very many voters, Humza Yousaf’s closeness to his predecessor is not the badge of dishonour Douglas Ross thinks it is.

This week’s announcement by Mr Yousaf of his priorities for the next year was low on ambition, set against the problems Scotland faces. It won’t put public services on a long-term secure footing or transform the business environment. Many of the “announcements” weren’t new. It pointedly left him wiggle room on some sticky issues.

But it was big on strong, tried-and-tested progressive themes like tackling inequality that have consistently appealed to a large constituency of Scottish voters under his predecessor. And it underlined that the First Minister is less concerned about the Tory threat than the Labour one.

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What took top billing were anti-poverty measures, carefully packaged as part of an economic growth drive. It was, said Mr Yousaf, “unashamedly anti-poverty and pro-growth”. It underlined the Scottish Government’s belief (backed by strong evidence) that tolerating high levels of poverty is bad for the economy.

A further £1bn is to be spent on social security in the year ahead. Ministers are to roll out free school meals to primaries six and seven (not a new commitment).

All this, they hope, will reassure voters that Scotland’s government have not abandoned their anti-poverty drive, even though cash is tight.

Probably the most eye-catching policy was on childcare. Alongside accelerating the provision of free childcare to two-year-olds was a plan to ensure childcare staff are paid a minimum of £12 an hour and a pilot scheme providing children with funded childcare from nine months until the end of primary school.

Running in six council areas, this policy if rolled out nationwide would allow armies of parents (mainly women) to go back to work, or increase their hours. It would reduce the number of economically inactive people, increase the pool of talent available to employers and help families out of poverty – if it were universally applied.

“If”, but of course it may never happen: there was no timetable for taking it past the pilot stage.

On climate change, meanwhile, Mr Yousaf was “unapologetic” in taking the necessary action while other political parties, as he put it, “are abdicating their responsibilities”. This was a pretty clear sign he intends to stand firm in the face of an increasingly cynical anti-green backlash spearheaded by the Conservatives and backed by Alba and SNP rebel Fergus Ewing, who grumble endlessly about limits on oil and gas exploration, and the rolling out of heat pumps, without offering net zero solutions. Again, there was no deviation by Mr Yousaf from Ms Sturgeon’s agenda.

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If there were surprises, one was that the new FM said relatively little to allay business criticism in spite of prioritising growth. Business and the economy featured, but noticeably late in his speech, with talk of halving the time for onshore windfarms to get consent and modest pledges on supporting entrepreneurship. It was the following day that he hinted his desire for progressive taxation might be tempered by the need to prevent wealthy people relocating to England.

Another surprise was how little he had to say on the NHS.

But all in all, this Programme for Government takes Scotland further along the path Nicola Sturgeon set. Indeed, Ms Sturgeon used her first speech in parliament since stepping down as First Minister to give it her enthusiastic backing, commending Mr Yousaf for “keeping the mission for a fairer society, where everyone can contribute to and benefit from the fruits of the economy” and praising his stance on climate change.

So what are we to make of that? That the SNP and their leader are out of ideas, as Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar claims?

No doubt they are jaded, after 16 years in power. Mr Yousaf has had to defend his predecessor’s failures to deliver on past promises and does not want to over-promise himself. Financial reality constrains his capacity to spend.

But he is also reminding voters what they always liked about the SNP. The party’s greatest strength has always been its ability to enthuse voters with a vision of a fairer Scotland.

Scotland’s more progressive path within the UK – public services that are a bit better funded, a social security system that ensures the poorest families are better off than elsewhere in the UK and ministerial commitment to an ambitious net zero strategy – are not incidental to the SNP’s political dominance, but key to it.

Mr Ross and Mr Sarwar deride Humza Yousaf for being the continuity FM, but the First Minister himself seems to regard it as sound politics – especially when he is trying to fend off a serious challenge from Labour.

The Scottish Labour leader yesterday accused Mr Yousaf of “tinkering around the edges”. Perhaps. But the challenge now for Scottish Labour will be to offer an alternative that outdoes the SNP while staying within UK Labour’s self-imposed tax and spending constraints.

That won’t be so easy. Mr Sarwar makes much of the need to shore up jobs and the economy and speaks at length about the SNP’s failures on the NHS, which are all valid points. NHS funding alone is a massive, hulking problem that Mr Yousaf hasn’t even tried to address. But without identifying a major new source of funding, Mr Sarwar may find it difficult to outdo the SNP on public services and tackling poverty.

Earlier this year, Nicola Sturgeon seemed to have become something of a liability to the party she once led.

But the politics she stood for were, and still are, popular. Humza Yousaf seems to think being a Sturgeon tribute act could be a winning turn.