Long before devolution arrived, ministers travelled widely in pursuit of specifically Scottish interests regardless of politics, mainly in pursuit of trade and investment, and quite right too. So don’t confuse baby with bathwater.

During my own pre-devolution stint as Scottish industry minister, inward investment and jobs were pouring in from Japan, Taiwan and Silicon Valley. There was an annual practice of ministerial visits to these parts of the world in search of more. Sadly, these conditions no longer exist. We hear very little now of inward investment on anything like that scale.

Nonetheless, I would always defend travel in pursuit of specific objectives identified by our development agencies, where they think a ministerial presence might help, which it sometimes does. But these circumstances are limited and annual requirements for ministerial services might be counted on the fingers of one hand.

What Scottish ministers certainly did not do in the past was wander round international gatherings in which we had no role in search of famous people with whom to have our photographs taken. This undignified precedent was set by Nicola Sturgeon at COP26 and has been maintained by her successor in Dubai.

There seems to be a complete lack of self-awareness. The picture Mr Yousaf posted of himself and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, literally looks as if he has disturbed her coffee break, sonorously captioned with the claim to have spoken to her “about the need for countries to work together to tackle the climate emergency.” Did she really need reminding by a passer-by?

Even stranger was the encounter between Mr Yousaf and the distinctly dodgy President Erdogan of Turkey. Again, the picture tweeted by the First Minister would have been suitable material for a word-bubble competition, along the lines of: “Are you someone famous?”. “Yes, I am the President of Turkey. Who are you?”.

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This may be a misreading of the situation. Maybe the encounter was less random than it appeared? Maybe it was pre-arranged? If so, by whom and why? I hope someone at Holyrood seeks answers to these questions since the Erdogan encounter in particular took Mr Yousaf into territory where, in purely diplomatic terms, he did not belong.

According to Mr Yousaf’s self-commentary, “as well as discussing the urgency of global action on tackling the climate crisis, I spoke to (President) Erdogan and Lebanon PM Najib Mikati about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza”. Were these alleged discussions minuted by civil servants? If meaningful exchanges actually took place, what caveats did Mr Yousaf communicate regarding, for example, President Erdogan’s repeated refusal to describe Hamas as a terrorist organisation, which has earned condemnation from both the EU and US? Given the opportunity, did Mr Yousaf express a view?

The Herald: Nicola Sturgeon at COP26Nicola Sturgeon at COP26 (Image: PA)

It seems odd for the head of a devolved government with no official standing at COP28 to use it as a venue where he can claim discussions on matters for which he has no responsibility and are the most diplomatically sensitive in the world today. Asked about this, a spokesman for Mr Yousaf replied that it is “important for the First Minister to meet with heads of state”. Is it really? If he wishes to do so then surely arrangements should be made through formal channels; the front door rather than the back?

To those who believe Scotland should be separate state, it may be a source of satisfaction that Mr Yousaf behaves as something which he patently is not. But maybe they too should question whether it actually does Scotland any good to be represented in this way when, in the absence of briefing or diplomatic advice, he exposes himself to the role of useful idiot.

Whatever the provenance of the encounter, the Turkish state news agency was happy to report it, coupling Mr Yousaf with the far-right Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, as “world leaders” whom President Erdogan met “on the sidelines of the COP28 UN climate summit”. Diplomatically isolated in his views, President Erdogan needs friends wherever he can get them. Scotland will suffice.

The delicacy of territory into which Mr Yousaf projected himself was further confirmed back home when an SNP councillor who arrived in Scotland as a Kurdish refugee tweeted her “disappointment and disgust” with the First Minister for his engagement, actual or attempted, with President Erdogan.

“Our politicians and half of the population are imprisoned by him and you shake his hand. I did not expect this from a FM that says he respects human rights”, tweeted Councillor Rosil Salih. Perhaps it will teach Mr Yousaf that diplomacy is more complicated than seeking out photo-opportunities.

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There are clear areas in which the Scottish Government has legitimate international interests consistent with its devolved responsibilities, but these are the ones that don’t really interest them. How often, I wonder, do they engage with devolved counterparts in Europe to actually learn something about how Scotland’s health or education outcomes might be improved, or how co-existence with central government can be enhanced?

On climate change, the hard graft of delivering some policies at home is surely enough of a challenge for the Scottish Government and a lot more useful than Mr Yousaf taking another minister plus a civil service retinue to Dubai in order to assert the importance of “meeting heads of state” as if this in itself is proof of status.

MSPs should be asking how many of the 86 foreign trips passed the test of reasonable justification. Where there are tangible benefits to be demonstrated within devolved responsibilities, then fair enough. I fully support them. However, that requires evidence that is currently lacking and which the Dubai antics do nothing to enhance.

Brian Wilson is a former Labour Party MP and Energy Minister