Humza Yousaf has sparked a major diplomatic row after inviting the President of Turkey to visit Scotland during secret talks.
The First Minister made the offer to Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting during the Cop28 summit, where he breached strict protocol by failing to ensure a Foreign Office official was present.
Mr Yousaf yesterday faced a backlash over his decision, which comes amid growing tensions between Western nations and Turkey.
Mr Yousaf and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meeting during the Cop28 summit
The move is controversial because Mr Erdogan, who was yesterday labelled an ‘authoritarian despot’, has branded the West’s approach to events in Gaza as ‘barbarism’ and accused Israel of behaving like a ‘war criminal’.
Concerns have also been raised about Turkey’s human rights record.
Attempting to defend his invitation, Mr Yousaf claimed both Scotland and Turkey are ‘on a human rights journey’.
Conservative MSP Stephen Kerr said: ‘Yousaf’s arrogance knows no bounds. He is diplomatically naive and has no right to be inviting foreign heads of state or heads of government to Scotland. It’s not his job.
‘He has a job to do, and as we can all see at First Minister’s Questions week after week, he’s pretty hopeless at it, and he should do himself a favour and focus on the job at hand.
‘The fact is Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime is ruthless. Fundamental human rights have been trashed. Political opponents locked up and thousands of people have been prosecuted for having the temerity to criticise Erdogan.
‘It begs the question: what does the First Minister see in this man and his regime? Erdogan has compared Israel to the Nazis, he’s accused Britain of turning the Red Sea into a “sea of blood” when we acted to defend international shipping from the bandit Houthis.
‘Humza Yousaf is so far out of his depth. He should leave reserved areas like foreign affairs to the UK Government where they belong.’
Mr Yousaf’s Cop28 meeting with Mr Erdogan, on December 1, has already caused controversy because he did not ensure that officials from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) were present.
The latest development comes after the First Minister’s wife, Nadia El-Nakla, revealed that her sister-in-law and their four children had escaped from Gaza after the Turkish government intervened.
Green MSP Ross Greer claims Erdogan has had opposition politicians locked up on nonsense charges
Humanist Society Scotland chief executive Fraser Sutherland said Erdogan should not be welcomed to Bute House
Details of the conversation between Mr Yousaf and Mr Erdogan were revealed in a readout of the meeting provided to the Herald newspaper following a freedom of information request.
It said: ‘FM mentioned he was last in Turkey during Ramadan in 2022 and invited RTE to visit Scotland during a future visit to the UK. FM noted that their wives had met during the recent First Ladies and spouses of Leader’s Summit on Gaza in Turkey.’
Mr Erdogan’s side of the conversation has been redacted, with the Scottish Government claiming that revealing it could ‘prejudice substantially relations between the UK and any other State’.
After the meeting, Mr Yousaf said they discussed the ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Gaza and called for an immediate and permanent ceasefire – in contrast to the UK position on the issue.
Humanist Society Scotland chief executive Fraser Sutherland said: ‘Erdogan is an authoritarian despot. He should not be welcomed to Bute House.’
The failure to ensure that FCDO officials were present angered Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron, who threatened to remove Scottish Government overseas staff from UK embassies if there were further breaches of the rules.
The invitation to Mr Erdogan appears to have angered the SNP’s coalition partners.
Green MSP Ross Greer said: ‘Why not invite Erdogan to Scotland? Ethnic cleansing of the Kurds. Bombing civilians in Syria and Iraq. Opposition politicians locked up on nonsense charges.’
Mr Yousaf defended the move, saying: ‘I said the next time he’s in the UK, he should come up to Scotland… why would we not wish to have a Nato ally here?’
Asked if he would raise reported abuses of human rights by Mr Erdogan’s administration during a visit, Mr Yousaf said yes, but ‘in a way that also recognises that we’re on a human rights journey, as are other countries’.
A UK Government spokesman said: ‘Foreign affairs is reserved under the Scotland Act and in such turbulent times, the need for the UK to speak on the world stage with one consistent voice is more important than ever.’
Mr Erdogan made a three-day visit to the UK in 2018.