FIRST Minister Humza Yousaf is on the campaign trail in the Highlands and islands – and The National is there with him.

Our reporter Steph Brawn is shadowing the SNP leader to find out what people are really saying on the doorsteps, and to get answers to crucial questions that you care about.

To that end, The National asked our columnist Rhoda Meek, a native Gaelic speaker and crofter who chairs the Tiree Community Development Trust, what questions she would like to put directly to the First Minister.

Below are Rhoda’s questions, put in full to First Minister Humza Yousaf, followed by his responses.

Are you able to apologise to island communities for the failure of the SNP to order new ferries a decade ago?

For me, the concerns from island communities about ferry vessel replacements, I've said before, I've got no hesitation in saying that we regret the impact. And of course I apologise where there's been failures in terms of the delivery of vessels.

I'm not going to go back over the history of Glen Sannox, Hull 801 and 802, but of course wherever there have been failures and those have impacted our communities, I have got no hesitation in saying that we regret it and we apologise.

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Are you open to reviewing fares to permit subsidised transport for island residents?

We’re very open to that. We’ve published most recently a Fair Fares review, we've had a good debate in Parliament on the Fair Fares review, and the Fair Fares review itself looks at some suggestions around looking at fares, can they be structured differently, particularly to help islanders more and provide more support to islanders. We're really open to that.

I suppose the obvious point to make is we've got to do that from the financial envelope that we've got. But we are very aware of the concerns island communities have given the whole range of challenges they've had to face in recent years.

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That's why we, of course, in the budget introduced hospitality relief for island businesses, 100% relief actually for our island businesses, because we're very conscious of the challenges they've had to face over the course of a number of years.

Are you able to ask Transport Scotland to review the CalMac contract to allow reserved space for island residents on ferries?

It's an issue that has been around for many, many years. We'll always look to see what we can do to try to accommodate islanders.

We want to do that and get the balance right between absolutely ensuring priority for island residents and absolutely ensuring that we don't do anything to unintentionally harm tourism to islands – which is so important to our local businesses and local economy in the islands.

Do you understand how important ferries are to people on the islands?

I completely understand. As a former transport minister, former islands minister, I engage regularly with the island communities and that's why, for example, in the budget, we've given an additional relief to island hospitality businesses for that purpose.

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And that's why we'll continue to do what we can to support island communities as best we can.

And of course, notwithstanding the challenges around vessels 801 and 802, there are legitimate questions to ask, but by the end of the parliamentary term, 2026, we'll have several new vessels coming online, which will make a massive difference to connectivity to the islands.

The National:

And are you able to commit to offering more support for communities that are building housing? Specifically a commitment to provide additional core funding to support the co-ordination of these projects?

So you’re asking the government to commit more money. You're asking us to commit money even though every single penny of the Scottish budget is committed already.

So in order for us to do that, we have to take money away from the health service or the education service or transport or police or fire. So it's impossible for me to simply materialise money that doesn't exist.

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I'm always up for suggestions on how we can improve island community connectivities, but we're doing that within some of the most difficult financial circumstances, not because of our making, but because we have a UK Government that has not only given us a cut over the last two years in real terms, they chose to give tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of public services.

So the flow of consequentials coming up from from Westminster is very, very constrained indeed.

Do you understand the damage being done to Gaelic-speaking communities by the withdrawal of funding for the Gaelic development officers? Is that something you're aware of and do you have an understanding of the impact of that?

Of course, the Scottish Government and the SNP in particular have got a really good track record in supporting Gaelic. Whether it's through Gaelic medium education, of course, what we're looking to do through the Scottish Languages Bill, but there's no doubt budget decisions are exceptionally difficult.

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I wish I could tell your readers that the Scottish Government getting a £500 million real-terms cut over two years in our budget isn't going to have an impact, but across the board it is. It’s having an impact on housing, it's having an impact on education, it's having an impact on our languages. What we're trying to do is minimise that impact.

We've heard a lot of the concerns raised around efficiencies that we've asked to be made around Gaelic and some of the cuts that we've made, and therefore we'll obviously look to see what we can do to try to rectify the situation as best we can.

But I have to be honest with people. The budget situation as we have it, is the most difficult and challenging budget I've seen, certainly in my time in government over 11 years.

So, will you commit to replacing that funding?

I can’t give that commitment right now. That would be disingenuous of me to do so. We know that there's significant pressure on the Scottish budget. We have been on the end of a £500m cut from the UK Government.

We've heard what the Gaelic-speaking community has to say about some of the challenging cuts that we've asked to be made and we'll seek to do what we can, particularly in the year, given if there's any additional consequentials that come from the UK Government or not.

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I'm not particularly holding my breath, so I couldn’t commit to it because that would be wrong for me to do and disingenuous for me to do. But I'll certainly seek to see what we can do.

Steph’s full report on her time shadowing the First Minister will appear in The National over the weekend.