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Yousaf defends inviting Turkish leader Erdogan to Scotland

Scotland’s First Minister has defended inviting the Turkish president to visit as he said both countries are “on a journey” regarding human rights.

Humza Yousaf briefly met Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the Cop28 UN climate summit in Dubai last year – drawing the ire of the Foreign Office due to a UK official not being present.

Minutes of the meeting given to the Herald under freedom of information legislation show the First Minister “invited RTE to visit Scotland during a future visit to the UK”.

At the time, the meeting drew criticism from within the First Minister’s own party, with SNP councillor Roza Salih saying she “did not expect this from a FM that says he respects human rights” over Turkey’s treatment of Kurds.

Speaking to journalists after First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Mr Yousaf defended the invitation.

“I said the next time he’s in the United Kingdom, he should come up to Scotland,” he said.

“Turkey is a Nato ally, why would we not wish to have a Nato ally here?”

Asked if he would raise reported abuse of human rights by Mr Erdogan’s administration of the Kurds during any future visit, the First Minister said: “Yes, I would raise human rights as I tend to do whenever I have meetings with international leaders.

“But I should say, of course, we do that in a way that also recognises that we’re on a human rights journey, as are other countries.”

Weeks after the meeting at Cop28 and another summit attended by the First Minister’s wife Nadia El-Nakla in Turkey bringing together the spouses of international political leaders, her sister-in-law and her young children were given sanctuary in Turkey, fleeing from Gaza.

A spokesman for the First Minister, speaking to journalists during a briefing on Thursday, said he did not believe the invitation was “connected” to Ms El-Nakla’s family later being allowed to flee to Turkey.

Following Mr Yousaf’s meeting with Mr Erdogan – described in the minutes as “warm and friendly” – the Scottish Government was chastised by Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron due to the lack of a Foreign Office official in attendance.

Lord Cameron
Lord Cameron said the meeting was a breach of protocol (PA)

Lord Cameron went as far as to threaten to withhold co-operation with Scottish ministers who travel abroad, saying: “I remain open to discussing a constructive way forward.

“However, any further breaches of the protocol of ministerial meetings having a FCDO official present will result in no further FCDO facilitation of meetings or logistical support.

“We will also need to consider the presence of Scottish Government offices in UK Government posts.”

The Humanist Society Scotland hit out at the invitation, with chief executive Fraser Sutherland saying: “This is a very short-sighted invite from the First Minister. Under President Erdogan Turkey has seen a sustained attack on civil liberties and human rights.

“Allegations of torture against political prisoners are widespread and the Turkish government censors and blocks webpages of news websites that are critical of the governing party.”

He added: “Erdogan is an authoritarian despot.

“He should not be welcomed to Bute House by this First Minister or any who follow him.”

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.

“Our embassies and high commissions overseas have a strong track record of working collaboratively with the Scottish Government to promote the interests of the whole UK.”