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Humza Yousaf defends minister for independence post as protests disrupt FMQs

Humza Yousaf defends minister for independence post as protests disrupt FMQs

Humza Yousaf defended his government reshuffle and the creation of a minister for independence post as protesters brought chaos to First Minister’s Questions.

The session – Yousaf’s first since succeeding Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader and FM – was suspended time after time as environmental activists shouted from the public gallery.

The first came just seconds into the meeting, with Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone ordering officials to clear the public gallery after repeated interruptions brought proceedings to a halt.

Only visiting school children were allowed to stay as adults were taken out.

Pledging to “focus on a swift solution”, Johnstone said: “I don't think I can adequately express my deep regret that such action is required in our national parliament.”

The protests are the latest in a string of such events to disrupt FMQs by activists from campaign group This is Rigged. Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross said, “this shower have been doing this week after week after week,” adding: “We must do something to stop this, going forward.”

During a heated session, Yousaf said he was “delighted” to have appointed a cabinet with the highest number of women in the history of devolution amidst criticism from Ross for the loss of Ben Macpherson, Ivan McKee and Kate Forbes from the frontbenches.

Referring to Jamie Hepburn, who has been appointed to the newly-created post of independence minister, Ross said: “Humza Yousaf stood in this chamber and promised to be the first minister for all of Scotland. Yesterday he had an opportunity to prove that with the new ministerial team he appointed but he failed in his first big test.

“This is the largest government since devolution with more ministers than ever before, but key ministerial posts relating to social security and tourism were abolished – yet a new minister for independence was created. Does the First Minister really believe that appointing a taxpayer funded nationalist campaigner is governing for all of Scotland?”

Yousaf responded: “I make no apology whatsoever for having a minister for independence because, my goodness, we need independence now more than ever before.

“More than ever before, because in energy-rich Scotland we have Scots that are fuel poor because of the UK government's policies. We need independence now, more than ever before, because we have more food banks in this country at any other time than ever before because of over a decade of austerity. So I will say to Douglas Ross, to the UK Government, we will continue to advocate and to advance independence because we need it now more than ever before.”

Responding to Ross’s claim that there is a “concerning lack of numeracy skills” within the government, Yousaf called Ross a “third-rate politician leading a third-rate party”.

He said: “We have an incredible cabinet with talent right across finance, right across economy, social justice, and wellbeing, and whether it's on the front benches or whether it's on my back benches, I am proud to have a team full of talent.”

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