FIRST Minister Humza Yousaf has said he found it “very hard” to watch Nicola Sturgeon during her recent appearance at the Covid Inquiry.

The former first minister held back tears as she told the inquiry there was a “large part" of her which wished she hadn't been Scotland’s leader during the pandemic.

Appearing on the Pod Save The UK podcast hosted by Nish Kumar and Coco Khan, Yousaf said it he found Sturgeon's appearance “very hard” to watch.

“Look, I worked alongside Nicola, initially during the pandemic I was her justice secretary and then I was her health secretary,” he said.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon

“She and I worked very closely together and I can tell you without a single iota of doubt or hesitation that Nicola Sturgeon (above) worked her socks off for one reason and one reason only and that was to try to protect people in this country from harm of Covid.

“I would look at Nicola some days and she would look absolutely exhausted, I could see she had lost weight, I was talking to her and she wasn’t sleeping. This was just constant. She was nothing but dedicated to that.”

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The First Minister conceded that the Scottish Government didn’t get everything right and that the inquiry was asking the “right questions,” but insisted that Sturgeon’s “integrity” was beyond doubt.

He said it was “pretty hard” to watch and added he has spoken to her to see how she was doing following her appearance.

Remembering Sturgeon’s resignation

Elsewhere on the podcast, the First Minister also detailed the conversation in which Sturgeon told him she would be resigning.

He explained he “remembered the day very, very well” even if he was slightly shocked by the timing.

Yousaf said she phoned him on Valentine’s Day and he joked that it was a “bit strange” getting a call from his boss on that particular day. 

He continued: “It was late at night, I think it was about quarter to ten I think when she gave me a call.

“I think most of us probably thought Nicola is likely to resign ahead of 2026, that’s when the next Scottish elections are due to take place, but many of us thought it would be probably years down the line.

“So, completely out the blue. I mean the first sentence she said to me I knew what she was going to tell me. I said, ‘how are you,’ and she said, ‘I’m okay but you’re not going to like what I’ve got to say to you’.

“And I said well don’t say it and she then decided to say it and tell me and there was a bit of profanity from my end.”

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He explained he then called John Swinney (above) who told him it was the start of a “new phase and era” and encouraged him to enter the leadership contest.

Rishi Sunak phone call

Yousaf also spoke about his first phone call with Rishi Sunak after he had become First Minister.

He said: “I thought just to break the ice I’d speak about the common heritage we’ve got and the background that we’ve got.

“Obviously we have disagreements but I thought it was important when he became PM as a person of colour and there was just no, it was let’s talk about business and the deposit return scheme.

“So I felt right we’re not going to be having a nice, cosy chat to begin with. It was clear how quickly he wanted off the phone. I had a list of things to raise but he just wanted off the call.

“There’s no personal relationship there which is not a big issue.”

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He also thanked Starmer for phoning him while his in-laws were trapped in Gaza and said that he heard nothing from the Prime Minister.

Yousaf added that the then-foreign secretary James Cleverly was “shamed” into calling when the First Minister mentioned he had not called during media interviews.  

Brexit bus

Host Kumar jokingly asked Yousaf if he had considered “lying on the side of a bus” to promote Scottish independence.

It was in reference to a claim on the side of a bus (below) during the Brexit campaign that “we send the EU £350 million a week – let’s fund out NHS instead”.

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Laughing, Yousaf responded: “Has anybody ever tried that before and how did it end?

“Honestly, it’s good to be honest as much as you possibly can with people.

"If I sat here and said to you Nish, independence is going to resolve every problem we’ve ever had, there’ll be no more challenges with the NHS, or education will be the top of the international league tables, you just wouldn’t believe it and neither should you.”

He added that Scotland should take inspiration from other European countries who are independent including Ireland, Norway and Denmark.