IT’S Humza Yousaf’s first year as First Minister and the public domain is full of unflattering, half-hearted and unflinching assessments.

Whilst conceding that Yousaf’s term has been overshadowed by the seemingly endless police investigation of Nicola Sturgeon, the general ranking has been six or seven marks out of 10. Is that fair? Is it good enough?

One nippy comment in The National described Yousaf as “the archetypal nice guy, someone with a CV more suited to head up a third sector, international charity than lead a nation to freedom”.

It’s a sair fecht when apparent honesty and integrity are negative qualities, but also evidence that very different yardsticks are at work when it comes to measuring the FM’s performance.

“Nice guys” may succeed in the limited devolved reality of Holyrood, but can they “cut it” in the muscular struggle for independence?

Most folk will acknowledge that Yousaf is a natural conciliator whose strong and early call for a ceasefire in Gaza also acknowledged the suffering in Israel.

Indeed, as Scotland’s Muslim First Minister pushed for an urgent ceasefire (embraced by Westminster parties five long months later) he was also visiting synagogues in Scotland and encouraged a joint statement by imams and rabbis working together for community cohesion.

All this as his in-laws were trapped in Gaza, uncertain each day if they would live to see the next.

It would have been easy to be angry, righteous or retreat completely from public life. Yousaf struck none of these pointless poses and won respect from almost every quarter, enabling his Westminster lieutenant Stephen Flynn (below) to make the same principled stand in the Commons.

The National: Stephen Flynn

Ironically the issue of Gaza – completely outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament – has won more plaudits for Scotland, Holyrood and the SNP and more focus on the party’s second-class status at Westminster than anything else.

There’s a lesson in there for any SNP First Minister. Don’t be constrained by the devolution settlement.

Outspoken on Gaza, Yousaf is generally more of a conciliator. That instinct was first demonstrated last June when the new SNP leader bounded off the podium during his first televised, keynote speech in Dundee to placate a woman protesting about a disgraced local neurosurgeon.

Such a high-risk strategy – hoping to resolve an angry disruption under the full glare of 10 TV cameras – was unprecedented and unrehearsed.

It spoke of a man practised in dispute resolution, confident about his own skills of mediation and therefore probably not exaggerating his own role in persuading health unions Unison and Unite to accept pay deals in 2022 and junior doctors to settle last summer.

Whoever brokered the deals, Scotland is the only country in the UK not impacted by NHS strikes – a considerable achievement – and the threat of walkouts in Scottish schools also ended last year.

Of course, conciliation was totally missing when Yousaf imposed a council tax freeze. And though (grudging) acceptance by councils has been chalked up as another success for Yousaf, the inevitable cuts in council services will be laid at his door.

Generally though, Yousaf has emerged from a year of disputes pretty well and demonstrated a real ability to negotiate.

The trouble is that’s not how most voters rate this First Minister. Firstly, the absence of strikes is indeed a mercy, but also quite hard to savour – especially when network broadcasters make inaccurate, sweeping statements that don’t acknowledge the very different climate of industrial relations in Scotland.

Secondly, for every low-key domestic policy “win” there’s a high-key domestic policy failure, like the vexed issue of ferry construction. Sure, all fingers now point to Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) rather than CalMac or the Scottish Government for producing ferry specifications that were impossible to deliver.

The National: CalMac

But ferries owner CMAL is a wholly owned public corporation of the Scottish Government, with Scottish ministers as sole shareholders. So where does the buck stop?

Why did no-one notice that not a single “reality-proofing” islander was on CMAL’s board until a massive fuss erupted last year? Are quangos beyond political direction and challenge?

And are some promised reforms – like land reform – just too difficult? The latest bill rolling through Holyrood has not a cat’s chance in hell of shifting the desperate dynamics of land ownership.

Land reform campaigner Andy Wightman (below) calculates that half of all privately owned rural land is now held by just 433 people and companies. In short, no change since 2012.

The National:

Why is Scotland the only country in northern Europe without any form of land tax? Why has the SNP not fulfilled its 2007 SNP pledge to reform council tax? Because they are both difficult?

I’m afraid that’s the inescapable conclusion and the core of dissatisfaction with Humza, his party and the whole Scottish Parliament – tackling the relatively “soft” social stuff, instead of the hard economic stuff.

Take the Hate Crime Act – controversial but passed by a cross-party consensus of 82 MSPs.

Its passage has quietly taken years of parliamentary time and effort, whilst citizens have struggled on with crippling financial burdens and our economy, land and industrial base have remained captured by overseas companies and multinationals. Does all of this not matter too?

Anas Sarwar (below) had the cheek to hint at this in a recent speech; “Holyrood has overseen sweeping social change”, but, “we have been very much a social policy parliament, rather than an economic policy parliament. That has let down Scottish employers and Scottish workers”. Mmmm. I wonder which party stood in the way of devolving real economic powers in 1997.

The National: Anas SArwar

It’s not fair to expect sweeping economic change from a fiercely constrained devolved parliament – but life’s not fair. And Scots don’t just expect it – they are craving it.

Can the Scottish Parliament get Scotland out of the British economic rut or is Holyrood only able to mitigate the cruellest benefit “reforms” and legislate for behavioural change?

Andrew Tickell analysed this conundrum in an excellent Sunday National article pegged to news that Holyrood plans to outlaw pet abduction.

“Increasingly, the limits of devolution seem to be channelling proposals like this through parliament – not necessarily because they reflect real priorities and economic injustices, but because they happen to fall within legislative competence.”.

Is it fair to think one man in one year could stretch, outflank or just plain ignore the legislative competence of devolution to create an economically interventionist Scottish Parliament?

Well, I think two expectations are reasonable. One is demanding more powers from Westminster pronto.

Tommy Sheppard’s amendment at the SNP conference in November committed the party to demand the permanent transfer of referendum powers to the Scottish Parliament, control over employment rights, the living wage, windfall taxation, regulation, pricing and production of energy sources, employment visas for overseas workers and new borrowing powers to invest a just transition – in the next General Election campaign.

Yip – this bundle does not constitute independence. But it does tackle and showcase the weakness of a 1999 devolution deal designed to make the Scottish Parliament and any First Minister look economically weak – and that’s important.

Sturgeon unaccountably “owned” issues like the attainment gap – impossible to solve in Scotland without the powers to tackle generational poverty and hopelessness. It’s time to explain what Scotland is missing.

Secondly, Humza must get bold on energy. We need to see Holyrood “own” the renewables revolution and pump-prime industrial recovery by an immediate rollout of district heating across Scotland.

The Green heating strategy is currently so hesitant, piecemeal and under-advertised as to be non-existent. Alex Salmond pushed the rollout of wind farms in Scotland using just planning law while energy remained reserved to Westminster.

I expect something far bolder in the wholly devolved area of heating.

Yes, Holyrood’s borrowing powers are zilch. But let’s be clear about that problem, devise a crafty solution and above all, start.

Third, and most obvious, the First Minister needs to talk about independence. With all due respect, that cause is more popular than himself, the SNP, Greens and Alba put together, but regularly disappears off the agenda.

So Humza, let yourself off the leash, speak out, aim high and your anniversary might be memorable yet.