DOUGLAS Ross is “sounding pretty scared” of SNP leadership contender Humza Yousaf, Nicola Sturgeon has said, after the Scottish Tory leader attacked the Health Secretary’s record.

While the First Minister reiterated that the choice for next party leader is in the hands of SNP members, she defended Yousaf after Ross attacked his government record.

After a brief tribute to Ukraine ahead of the anniversary of the Russian invasion, Ross launched into an attack on Yousaf’s record as Health Secretary and A&E waiting times.

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Ross claimed Yousaf was the “front runner” to replace Sturgeon and said that NHS has gone “further and further into crisis” under his leadership.

Citing an FOI which found a patient in the Borders waited 49 hours for treatment in A&E, and another in Ayrshire waited 60 hours, Ross said: “First Minister that is two and a half days in accident and emergency, surely no one can defend that. So doesn't this confirm that Humza Yousaf isn't even up to the job he's got at the moment?”

In her response, the FM pointed out that Yousaf was the only Health Secretary across the UK who had managed to avoid any strike action in the NHS, and said that made the Tories “uncomfortable”.

In his second question, Ross accused Yousaf of “smirking” while he asked his question and asked Sturgeon if he was the “best the SNP have to offer”, while continuing to focus on NHS waiting times.

Sturgeon replied by accusing Ross of trying to use waiting times as a “political weapon” and chastised him for ignoring the impact of the pandemic on the health service.

Later in the exchange, Ross attempted to pick apart Yousaf’s “hopeless” record. He told the chamber: “Let's look at what Humza Yousaf has done in office.

“He was the transport minister who drove without a licence.

“He delayed the dualling of the A9 and he clapped like a seal when Nichola Sturgeon launched a ferry with painted on windows.

“He was Justice Secretary who did nothing when violent crime rose, got duped by a hoax video into calling on the police to investigate Rangers players and damaged free speech with his hate crime bill.

"And now, Humza Yousaf is the worst Health Secretary since devolution, but it looks like he’s going to fail upwards, in any other line of work Humza Yousaf would have been sacked, not promoted.

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“Forget being SNP leader, why is he even still in government?”

The FM hit back at Ross and said he was “sounding pretty scared” of Yousaf.

Referring to her past position as health secretary before she became FM, Sturgeon added: “Let me just reflect on this fact - in the eight years that I have been First Minister, the people of Scotland have had no fewer than eight opportunities to cast the verdict on me, my party and my government.

“And in every single one of these eight opportunities, the people of Scotland have rejected the Conservatives and put their trust in me, my country, and my government and I have every confidence in Humza or whoever succeeds me as leader of the SNP will continue that record of success.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also took aim at the Health Secretary in his clash with the First Minister, saying he had “failed” and the NHS recovery plan drawn up by Yousaf was “more about spin than substance”.

“As a result, patient outcomes are getting worse, staff are burnt out and the NHS is going backwards,” Sarwar said.

He insisted: “On every single measure, this Health Secretary is failing to get the NHS back on track.

“In fact, this is the worst it has ever been.

“So does the First Minister really believe that the man responsible for failing Scotland’s NHS should be responsible for our country?”

He stressed again the decision on who the new leader would be was “one for my party”.

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But she sought to defend the Health Secretary’s record, saying: “Since Humza Yousaf became Health Secretary – and this is what Anas Sarwar fails to mention – there have been, I think, three further waves of a global pandemic that have affected health services all across the UK, Europe and the world, that’s not something that can just be ignored.”

Speaking to journalists outside of the Holyrood chamber on Thursday, Yousaf said it was “quite telling actually” that both the Scottish Tory leader and his Labour counterpart had attacked him

He said: “It’s quite telling that my opponents want to attack me, want to discredit me quite personally and not focus on any of the other candidates.

"I think that tells you everything you need to know.”