Nicola Sturgeon's protection of Humza Yousaf doesn't extend to scooter mishaps

There are times in Holyrood when the cut and thrust of political pantomime is abandoned and real life, suddenly and shockingly, intrudes to disrupt.

Humza Yousaf keeps his gaze fixed on Nicola Sturgeon at FMQs.

Such was the case in the Holyrood chamber on Thursday during First Minister’s Questions.

The death of 65-year-old Gerard Brown from Glasgow after an alleged 40-hour wait for an ambulance was raised by Tory leader Douglas Ross – followed by a litany of other lengthy waits by patients read out by opposition MSPs.

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There was a woman who waited eight hours with a fractured hip, an 86-year-old also left lying on the floor for eight hours, and a man in Kilwinning who had to wait 23 hours for help and whose wife is concerned their luck could run out should he be in need of help again.

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This, said Mr Ross in his most sombre of tones, was a “crisis” and one that has been allowed to develop under the watch of Nicola Sturgeon and her latest health secretary – Humza Yousaf is the fourth to hold the position since she became First Minister.

This, he said, she would not only have to accept, but must say the actual word “crisis”, nothing less would do.

Similarly serious, Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar demanded “urgent action" – “today, tomorrow, the day after and the day after”. The buck, he said, "stops with her”.

Ms Sturgeon agreed. She could hardly do otherwise.

But she would not utter the C-word. Not a crisis then, but a challenging time for an ambulance service under “acute pressure”.

Dancing on the head of a pin she also refused to declare a major incident in the Scottish Ambulance Service, instead sticking firmly to the vocabulary of “a Level Four escalation”.

For well over a year Ms Sturgeon has also been under acute pressure. She has read out lists of Covid fatalities on a daily basis, but when there is more than a number, when there is a name, and behind that a grieving family, the loss is more tangible – inside and outwith Holyrood.

Her explanation boiled down to Covid pressures, with the promise of the Army being drafted in to help, but all the while, at her side was the man who has been making her job harder.

On Wednesday Mr Yousaf recklessly agreed with a radio presenter that people needed to “think twice" about calling an ambulance, a message that will have been heard by many elderly people as another reason not to be a burden on the NHS.

A few months ago he raised alarm after saying very young children were being hospitalised because of Covid, which he later had to apologise for as it was not true.

Unsurprisingly Mr Yousaf kept his gaze averted from the opposition benches, eyes only on his leader as she stood as his human shield.

Yet there is only so much even she can do. By the time FMQs ended, the world had seen the footage of Mr Yousaf falling from a specialised scooter he is using while recovering from a badminton-related injury.

These things happen, the FM might have said. But “hapless” is the adjective many are beginning to associate with her health secretary, and his You’ve Been Framed moment will not have helped dispel that notion.

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