EDITORIAL COMMENT: Yousaf departure should herald a choice for the Scottish people

Humza Yousaf confirming his departure Pic flickr.com/scottishgovernment

Scotland will soon have its third first minister in the space of two years.

Humza Yousaf found his position was untenable just days after he had terminated a deal with the Scottish Greens that had, in effect, allowed him to hold the job in the first place.

With the threat of an unwinnable confidence vote looming in parliament, he announced on Monday that his 13 month tenure would soon be over.

His resignation turned out to be an unintentional act of self-sacrifice, but Mr Yousaf did the country a favour by tearing up the Bute House Agreement.

The deal has been at the root of so many stupid and damaging controversies – from Highly Protected Marine Areas which would have wiped out the Hebridean fishing sector, to a botched deposit return scheme that threatened chaos for business.

There’s been unworkable, expensive regulation on domestic heating systems, while at the same time deals were cut with big banks to oversee the process of using large tracts of rural Scotland for questionable carbon capture schemes.

In so doing the price of land has inflated and far too much of it remains effectively closed off for housing or community development.

The partnership talked up its environmental and progressive credentials – but the outcomes said differently.

The last days of the coalition agreement saw climate change targets cut, and the Greens refuse to recognise the scientific basis of a report critical of those who had sought to make it easier for teenagers to access medical treatments to change gender.

In the aftermath of Mr Yousaf’s resignation attention now turns to potential successors.

The SNP will seek to avoid a repeat of the type of bruising leadership contest they had in 2023. John Swinney has been tipped to run, possibly uncontested.

Highland MSP Kate Forbes, who lost narrowly to Mr Yousaf last year, could also come into the frame.

She still has popular support, but may find herself asking if, at this stage, she would prefer to lead the party out of election defeat, rather than into it.

Whether she goes for the job now or in future, the ugly campaign to debar Ms Forbes as a candidate due to her Free Church adherence should be resisted.

Ms Forbes is communicant Christian, as Mr Yousaf is a practising Muslim.

If one can stand, so can the other, end of story.

The wider picture is that there is an urgent need to shift the political focus away from the identity arguments and culture wars waged obsessively in recent years and instead towards action to tackle inequalities in housing, health and education as well as to grow a stagnant Scottish economy. 

The verdict on who leads that change should ultimately rest with the Scottish people – who did not get the opportunity to pass judgement on either Mr Yousaf as First Minister or on the prospect of the Greens being in government.

17 years has been a fair stint for the SNP.

As it’s their founding principle they’ve naturally used their position of power to advance the argument for Scottish Independence.

It’s still a popular idea, but it hasn’t become a majority one.

If they want to ask why, they could start by examining the mistakes they have made with the substantial powers at their disposal as the dominant party at Holyrood.

Time in opposition may afford room for introspection.

The appointment of a new SNP leader should be followed quickly by an election, at which the Scottish people should seize the opportunity for change.

West Highland Free Press editorial, 2.5.24