HUMZA Yousaf has said he had an “upfront and honest” conversation with controversial tycoon Brian Souter over his socially conservative views amid reports he asked the businessman to help arrange an industry dinner.

The First Minister told Radio Clyde that discussions with Souter to arrange a dinner at a five-star hotel in Edinburgh last summer were part of a bid to “reset the relationship” with business leaders following his win in the SNP leadership contest.

Souter is a controversial figure who campaigned to keep Section 28 in place in the early 2000s. The policy, introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government, prohibited the “promotion of sexuality” by local authorities, effectively banning teachers from discussing gay rights.

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Earlier, the Scottish Greens' LGBT wing urged the First Minister and SNP to “come clean” on their relationship with Souter, and said that involving the businessman in talks was a “regressive move”.

Previously, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie has been highly critical of Souter, and said his campaign to keep Section 28 inspired him to get into politics.

Speaking to broadcasters on Friday, the First Minister said that he was “really clear” when he took office he would seek to repair the relationship with business and that Souter is “by any account, a leading businessman here in Scotland” and confirmed his team had reached out to the Stagecoach founder.

“He was very helpful in organising some entrepreneurs, business people for a dinner, and he is a businessman much like many business people across Scotland that I want to make sure we reset the relationship with and reconnect with,” Yousaf said.

“It is very much on that business side.

“Brian and I have had a very upfront and honest conversation. His social conservatism which he talks about very openly is different to my socially liberal views.

“But this is about reconnecting with people who have got experience in business and Brian was one of those individuals.”

Souter was one of the biggest donors to the SNP under Alex Salmond and gave them £2.5 million between 2007 and the 2014 referendum. He stopped giving cash to the party under Nicola Sturgeon but has never publicly said why.

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The First Minister insisted that regardless of Souter’s socially conservative views, he would continue to engage with the business community.

He added: “I’ve made it really clear that I’m going to engage with businessmen and businesswomen right up and down [the] country.

“Whether I agree with their views on the constitution, whether I agree with their views politically, whether I agree with their social views, I’m going to make sure they’ve got an open door to speak to me, speak to my ministers, in order so that we can hear what business has to say.

“Brian will be treated no differently to any other businessman or businesswoman in the country, and he has been an exceptional businessman for Scotland for many decades.”

The National: Sir Brian Souter

We previously reported that Yousaf’s chief of staff, Colin McAllister, and an aide to Souter exchanged emails on a possible dinner in summer 2023.

The dinner eventually went ahead at a five-star Edinburgh hotel in summer last year, after Souter reportedly “offered to reach out to some people”.

Yousaf, Souter, Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray, former managing director of DC Thomson Ellis Watson, and McAllister are all listed as attending, as well as nine other figures whose names were redacted from a Freedom of Information (FOI) release.

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Earlier, the Rainbow Greens said that accepting help from a supporter of “regressive and damaging policy” like Souter shows a “clear lack of moral standing” in a dig at the SNP.

They said: “No progressive party should ever accept the support of individuals like Souter. This shows regression, the opposite of what the SNP stand for.”

The group added that Sturgeon led the SNP without “running to Souter cap in hand”.