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Humza Yousaf never stood a chance

Humza Yousaf announces his resignation in Edinburgh this morning. Credit: Getty

April 29, 2024 - 12:40pm

Three days after Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf proclaimed he would fight and win a vote of no confidence in his leadership, he has resigned as SNP party leader. Unable to win back the support of the Greens after severing the coalition his minority government had signed up to, and unwilling to bargain with Alex Salmond’s Alba Party, he boxed himself into a corner, leaving the SNP and independence movement in crisis.

The missteps that led him to this point will go down in history as a masterclass in how not to do politics. It was the Greens who first cast doubt on the future of the Bute House Agreement (BHA) — calling an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) so their membership could vote on it after the SNP government reneged on ambitious climate change targets. But it was the abrupt manner in which Yousaf preempted that EGM, breaking off the deal without talks, that led to the Greens’ current fury and refusal to back him in a no-confidence motion. That motion had been lodged by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross and was due to take place on Thursday.

With the numbers stacked evenly for and against him, Yousaf found himself relying on the support of Alba’s one MSP Ash Regan, formerly of the SNP, who stood against him in last year’s leadership contest before defecting.

The First Minister called her move to Alba “no great loss”, so she could perhaps be forgiven the obvious schadenfreude she felt at her position of power. Salmond, too, was barely able to suppress his glee as his party sought to extract concessions — including the protection “of the dignity and safety of women and children” and “progress on independence”. Alba also wanted the SNP to step aside in some Scottish seats.

To outside observers, these demands from a party pursuing the same endgame might seem reasonable. But to those following Scottish politics, the notion the SNP could cosy up to Alba was unthinkable. The feud between Salmond and his successor Nicola Sturgeon is at the heart of the independence movement’s ongoing civil war, and Alba has striven to undermine first her and then Yousaf’s leadership.

The reference to “the safety of women”  also underscored another fault line: the ill-fated Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) bill. It would be difficult to overestimate the extent to which a polarisation over trans rights has riven the party, and fed into its current travails. Those on the movement’s gender-critical wing — including Regan — have long railed against the Greens’ supposed “wokeness”, and held them responsible for pushing the SNP towards more “progressive” policies. Meanwhile, the Greens have done little to ease the situation, criticising the recent Cass review and the decision to pause the prescribing of puberty blockers.

Yousaf’s decision to ditch the BHA was largely a response to criticism that, within the coalition, the tail was now wagging the dog. But if he saw it as a show of strength, then it backfired, demonstrating only how beholden he was to opposite and irreconcilable forces.

This tension between the social conservatives and the progressives will continue to impact on the efforts to find a successor. The most obvious contender, Kate Forbes, who also ran against Yousaf last year, has been positioning herself as a future first minister for some time, and is said to have been rallying support over the weekend.

From the Highlands, Forbes is considered by many to be competent and likely to appeal to rural voters who switched their allegiance to the SNP under Salmond. But she is a fiscal and social conservative, who is against abortion, same-sex marriage and the presumption against further exploration for North Sea Oil.

As such, she is unlikely to gain the support of the Greens on whose votes the Scottish government would continue to rely in order to pass legislation and their budget. Alternatively, might Forbes gain support from the Scottish Tories? If this seems unlikely, given Ross was the architect of the no-confidence motion, it is worth remembering that it was an alliance with the Conservatives which kept the SNP functioning as a minority government between 2007 and 2011.

A renewed alliance could see a shift to the Right that threatens, for example, the proposed standalone misogyny legislation, and the attempt to introduce no-protest buffer zones outside abortion clinics. That would push younger, more progressive members and voters away in their droves. It might win back some of those who became disaffected in the fallout from the GRR debacle, but it is important to remember that many of those on the gender-critical wing are passionate advocates of women’s reproductive rights.

Yousaf has resigned as party leader but will remain as First Minister until a replacement is found. If Forbes is considered too divisive, an alternative would be to find a safer, more unifying figure, who could steer the Scottish government through the general election and on to the next scheduled Holyrood election in 2026. Whenever the words “safe pair of hands” are uttered north of the border, attention turns to former leader John Swinney, a capable, well-liked and unifying figure. Swinney has previously intimated that he has no desire to return to frontline politics, but he may be persuaded to make the sacrifice to rescue his party from the mess it’s in.

In the meantime, many of the SNP faithful are pondering how Yousaf came to make such a grave and irreversible miscalculation? Where were his advisers? Had no one crunched the numbers or war-gamed the potential fallout? During his resignation speech, he conceded he had underestimated the hurt his sudden severing of the BHA had caused the Greens. With his leadership ended after 13 trouble-filled months, the soon-to-be former First Minister will have plenty of time to further reflect on his choices.


Dani Garavelli is a Scotland-based freelance journalist and columnist for The Herald.

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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
23 days ago

So long, Bonnie Prince Useless!
From what I’ve gathered, I can count the number of people that still like this guy without running out of digits. On one hand.

Richard C
Richard C
23 days ago

A ridiculous headline.

Paul T
Paul T
23 days ago

Its true he never stood a chance; being an utter cretin has that effect.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
23 days ago

“…Humza Yousaf never stood a chance…”

Humza: is it cause I is black?

(just a jokey AliG reference in case anyone wants to get their knickers in a twist)

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
23 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

It’s systemic racism stooopid !

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
23 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

The amusing thing is that it’s Hindu and Sikh immigrants who are heaving the biggest sign of relief.
For all the loud proclamations against racism, the difference in the way “kaffirs” are treated in Britain versus Pakistan is rather stark….and as the riots in Leicester showed, you can take the minority out of Pakistan, but…

Kat L
Kat L
23 days ago

I thought American politics were messed up and useless; no wonder the west can’t get anything done.

AC Harper
AC Harper
23 days ago

When you repeatedly proclaim that everyone is against you eventually it will become true.

Andrew D
Andrew D
23 days ago

Can unHerd journalists please try and avoid coy euphemisms such as ‘gender-critical views’ and ‘women’s reproductive rights’?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
23 days ago
Reply to  Andrew D

I have a new acronym to avoid the euphemisms for the blessed Humza – yardeig: yet another race and DEI grifter

Amelia Melkinthorpe
Amelia Melkinthorpe
22 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

YARDIEG – yet another race and DIE grifter. It’s DIE, not DEI, as there’s nothing godly about it.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
23 days ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Indeed. It has become fashionable to speak in euphemisms as that provides a patina of high-mindedness over straight talk. “Reproductive rights” gives the appearance of being far more than just abortion, even though it’s not.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
22 days ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Wouldn’t reproductive rights also include access to contraception?

Andrew D
Andrew D
22 days ago

Not being allowed to have children would be against one’s reproductive rights

Elon Workman
Elon Workman
23 days ago

When he complained and denigrated his own own country for being 95% white it is hardly surprising that Hunza Yousaf was hoist with his own petard when the government of which he was First Minister passed the recent so called ‘Prevention of Hate Crimes’ Act the consequences of which are so absurd it is hard to believe how it could have ever been passed in the first place.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
23 days ago
Reply to  Elon Workman

Hear hear – that law made him a laughing stock before any of this happened

N Forster
N Forster
22 days ago
Reply to  Elon Workman

What I found interesting was the “script” the Police gave to defend Yousef on this matter was that he in no way intended to offend anyone. Yet we have been told that under this law, the self proclaimed intent of the accused is of no significance. It is only the perceived hurt felt by the person making the accusation.
Were I in the position of being accused under this law, my defence would be a repeat of the one given by the Police on Yousefs’ behalf.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
21 days ago
Reply to  Elon Workman

But will they now revoke this legislation? My guess is not. The civil servants love this kind of legislation too much. It is just the replacement of one clown by an other clown in the ongoing circus act.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
23 days ago

Even by the standards of today’s degraded leaders, this total and utter plank stands alone; what an achievement, what a legacy.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
23 days ago

When one of your most lasting comments is lambasting a predominantly white nation for the “crime” of being predominantly white, that’s probably not going to engender lasting support. Compounded by the party’s headlong dive into the trans business and a flirtation with green policies many people realize are self-harming, the outcome starts to look predictable.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
23 days ago

‘If Forbes is considered too divisive, an alternative would be to find a safer, more unifying figure, who could steer the Scottish government through the general election and on to the next scheduled Holyrood election in 2026.’

Herein lies the problem – they have no real power. The general election is what matters- either the Scots break away or stay stuck with a parliament that is at best a junior partner to Westminster – ditto the Welsh Cenedd. All else is vanity.

Peter B
Peter B
23 days ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

The Scottish Parliament is junior to Westminster. Fact. Whether the SNP admit to it or not.

Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
22 days ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

They’re either junior to Westminster within the UK or they’d be junior to Brussels within the eu.

AC Harper
AC Harper
22 days ago

That’s if the EU would have them.

Peter B
Peter B
23 days ago

My wife had R4 on earlier this morning and someone (Nick Robinson perhaps) was talking about the drama in Scotland “ever since Nicola Sturgeon was forced to resign”.
Yes, you heard that right. The BBC version now appears to be that she was forced out. Victim status awarded !
Another one for the BBC disinformation unit ?

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
23 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

Puir Nicola shed a tear in her hankie
She was soooo upset
The wee luikalike Krankie.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
23 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

I’ll play devil’s advocate for the BBC (just this once) but could the use of the word “forced” be meaning that Sturgeon had no choice rather than was being compelled?
Either way, it’s not a great choice of wording.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
22 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

I get your point, but it’s strange that the BBC always seem to be on the “convenient” side of ambiguities like this.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
23 days ago

The SNP and the Greens seem spectacularly incompetent.

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
22 days ago

Hard to think of someone worse than Swinney. I do remember him when he was “education” secretary during COVID.
Mind you, there is indeed a wealth of candidates, all equally unappealing, to choose from, but Swinney… I just can’t stomach him.

Anyway, it is true that Useless never stood a chance, but that was from the outset, not just the last few days.

william langdale
william langdale
22 days ago

As usual,identity politics poisons everything it touches.I wonder if Keir Starmer is taking note.

N Forster
N Forster
22 days ago

Looks like this could lead to further division within the nationalist movement. Oh dear.

A D Kent
A D Kent
22 days ago

 He had no chance because he’s a bit thick, but also because the party he inherited was an absolute basket-case of corruption. A corruption that saw Lawfare exercised against the likes of Craig Murray and Mark Hirst for commenting on the (also Lawfare) prosecution of Alex Salmond (in which at least one of the accusers quite obviously perjured herself). Such corruption of the Scottish legal system is enabled by the fact that the Lord Advocate also sits in the Scottish Cabinet (with the likes of Nicola Sturgeon and Yousaf).

Fun fact: Murray was jailed for months for the unprecedented ‘crime’ of ‘jigsaw identification’, bit it turned out that the majority of people who managed to piece together who Salmond’s accusers were in fact did so because they had read an article written by someone with very strong links to the author of this Unherd piece. That author remained uncharged. It’s a funny old world and no mistake.

https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2020/05/a-very-political-prosecution/

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
21 days ago

After enduring 25 years of devolved government, I fail to see any benefit to Scotland. It’s just been a playgroup for the “eternal student” mentality of political obsessives and activists.
All the Holyrood discussion is basically squabbling over who gets to distribute wealth, and who to. Not a thought about how wealth is created. It’s inevitable that this leads to situations like Nicola and Humza found themselves in.
I don’t care. Just put them in a care home, give them all VR sets and they can live in their alternate universe and leave the rest of us alone. It would be cheaper than having them set policy.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
18 days ago

Sad but true: people get the govt they deserve. The only person to blame for the terrible governance in Holyrood is the Scottish voter.