28 April 2024

Weekly Briefing: Humza Yousaf’s last stand


Poor Humza Yousaf. Just like most other weeks, this has been a rough one for the Scottish First Minister. After almost three years, the Bute House Agreement, which saw the SNP form a power-sharing arrangement with the Scottish Greens, has collapsed. It’s almost as if adopting the policy agenda of a completely different party wasn’t a particularly sustainable plan.

In the following days, things have gone from bad to worse for the First Minister. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, and the Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, have both tabled motions of no confidence; the former in Yousaf himself and the latter in the government he leads. 

Ordinarily, Yousaf could have relied on the seven Green votes in such an eventuality. But not this time, as the Greens have said that they plan on supporting Ross’ motion. Given that the SNP only hold 63 out of 129 seats in Parliament, this loss of support means that any confidence vote is likely to be a close-run event.

Clearly, this puts Yousaf in a tricky spot. He now faces the near impossible task of whipping up support among his fellow MSPs, many of whom he has alienated with his positions on gender and climate change. It’s certainly going to prove a difficult sell to Ash Regan, his former colleague and SNP leadership candidate who defected to Alex Salmond’s Alba party in October. Regan has stated that her support, which could prove vital for Yousaf’s political survival, is dependent on competent governance and changing tack on the gender debate. On both counts, it doesn’t seem as though Yousaf is hitting the mark.

But the fact that he is in this position isn’t too surprising. Throughout his political career, Yousaf has repeatedly found himself hoisted by his own petards.

Take the recently passed Hate Crime Act. Despite it being obvious from the start that the Act, spearheaded by Yousaf when he was Cabinet Secretary for Justice, was utterly illiberal and doomed to failure, he decided to press on with it anyway. It only took a matter of days to prove how farcical the legislation is, with Police Scotland being inundated with thousands of bogus hate crime complaints – many in relation to Yousaf’s infamous speech about the number of white people in Scottish public life.

Similarly, the SNP’s staunch commitment to the controversial Gender Recognition Bill, passed in December 2022, was always going to cause trouble. Only a month after the Bill was passed, double rapist Isla Bryson (born Adam Bryson) changed gender while waiting to stand trial and was briefly remanded in a women’s prison – turning all of the worst fears of the Bill’s critics into an appalling reality.

Indeed, Yousaf’s complete absence of nous was on full display during the break-up itself. The Greens were fuming over the SNP’s U-turn on Net Zero targets and its failure to denounce the Cass Review as the closest thing to genocide. But rather than going for an amicable split, and use it as an opportunity to start anew with a different vision, Yousaf threw his toys out of the pram. Just a few days after saying he ‘really valued’ having Greens in government and ‘thoroughly enjoyed’ the partnership, he called an emergency Cabinet meeting and then a press conference to announce that it was over. Not only is this level of belligerence profoundly unbecoming, but it has also proven politically disastrous.

Yousaf remains adamant that he will win the confidence votes next week and chaos as usual will be allowed to resume. But regardless of whether he wins or not, his lack of judgment, foresight and frankly, grace should go down in politics textbooks as a case study for how not to govern. By consistently pursuing populism over practicality, he has not only sown the seeds of his own potential demise, but sabotaged the very cause the SNP was set up to champion.

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Joseph Dinnage is Deputy Editor of CapX.