I have waited for anger to subside before writing about Humza Yousaf as First Minister. The obvious unfairness of the election created a lot of anger.
The SNP party machine did everything to get Humza elected, with the now huge payroll vote swinging into action from the start with coordinated endorsements and messages. Central party staff, the SNP’s Westminster spin doctor and even Sturgeon’s “fixer” Liz Lloyd were seconded to the Humza campaign.
The hundreds of paid staff of MPs and MSPs campaigned relentlessly for Humza, self-describing as “activists”. The numerous SNP HQ troll accounts swung into action.
Banners and campaign materials identical to those produced by Party HQ were instantly available to Humza, almost before the other candidates knew there was a leadership contest. Party hustings were packed with Humza supporters before the rest of the party knew there were hustings, with online tickets almost instantly “sold out”, but the same claque faces appearing at multiple hustings, to the extent that Kate Forbes and Ash Regan actually called it out.
The mainstream media swung into unanimous and ferocious attack on Kate Forbes instantly the election was called, attempting a knockout blow based on her religious beliefs.
Party HQ lied to the media and the world repeatedly about membership numbers, hiding the depth of Sturgeon’s failure, to the obvious benefit of the “continuity candidate”.
Entirely false claims were made by the same HQ about the role of voting platform provider MiVoice’s – who just provide the software; they do not audit the list of voters or logins SNP HQ gave them. There is no audit or check.
Ultimately only 51,000 out of 72,000 supposed party members bothered to vote in an election effectively for First Minister of Scotland. That is 10% less than the member turnout in the Truss/Sunak Tory leadership election. The Tories have a large portion of membership which is purely social in rural England.
After all this bias, for Humza to get less than 50% on first preferences, and then get over the line by just 52% to 48%, was really quite remarkable. It speaks to the massive amount of dissatisfaction among ordinary party members.
It says everything about the mentality of Sturgeon and Murrell that GCHQ were brought in to ensure the cyber-security of the voting. Willie MacRae, my old friend Gordon Wilson and all the others who built the SNP will be birling in their graves.
In fact, if you excluded the votes of those who make a living from the SNP – elected representatives, their staff, HQ staff and the massive and too infrequently discussed tail of those in third sector organisations funded by Scottish Govt grants – I have no doubt Humza would have lost on the votes of those who support the party without reward and at their own cost.
Which is an interesting thought.
Those are reasons to feel angry about the mechanics, the process of election. There was also reason to be angry about the substance. From the start, the election was, as befits Sturgeon’s SNP, much more about identity politics than about Independence.
The use of culture wars to define “progressive” politics – rather than economic debate about reducing the massive wealth gap in society – was systematic and deliberate. It made listening to the debates frustrating and unrewarding. The mainstream media was delighted to play along with this narrative.
Now the strange thing about all this is, that had he not cast himself as Sturgeon’s “continuity candidate”, I would have been supportive of Humza Yousaf.
Yousaf’s instincts are more left wing than Sturgeon’s. Unlike the Clinton-mimicking Sturgeon, Humza is not a natural neoliberal, and when he muses about wealth taxes or genuine land reform I believe that is the real Yousaf coming out.
Humza also has a good, solid record of solidarity and activism with Palestine – something the SNP moved away from, and which is anathema to Sturgeon’s young praetorian guard. Unlike Sturgeon, Humza is not a natural NATO hawk nor supporter of United States’ neo-Imperialism.
Humza unequivocally declared himself a republican and in favour of a non-monarchical Independent Scotland, again marking out a far more radical approach than Sturgeon.
It is of course obvious but still worth saying that it genuinely is delightful that Scots would select a Scots Muslim of Pakistani heritage as leader. That says something very good about our society. The horrible Islamophobia this has attracted – almost entirely from unionists – has been very unpleasant to observe on social media.
In a career as a diplomat, you get access to senior politicians and observe governance at close quarters, all round the world.
One conclusion this has led me to, is that puppet successors very rarely work out as planned by whoever is holding the strings. Once they have gained enough control of the levers of power, the supposed puppets quickly find the advice of their predecessor onerous, and the interests of their predecessor less than compelling.
There are exceptions – Medvedev never made any real effort to pull clear of Putin, though Putin had guarded against that by calling himself Prime Minister and not actually letting go of the levers.
But that Humza, the self-declared continuity candidate, will simply be a cypher for the Murrells seems to be not certain, even though he plainly felt appearing to accept that role was the way to get elected. He was right – just.
It is however certainly true that his Cabinet is very heavy with those close to Sturgeon, who will keep her informed on every move. In particular Shona Robison, extremely powerful as both Humza’s Deputy and Finance Minister, is inseparable from Sturgeon, as is Shirley Anne Somerville, Minister for Social Justice.
We often talk loosely of ministers not being talented or bright. Humza, in reality, is both talented and bright; his failing has always been fecklessness and epicureanism.
But in the case of both Robison and Somerville, it genuinely is impossible to make a case for either of them being talented, or to put it bluntly, intelligent enough for the positions they occupy.
Their elevation depended entirely on their loyalty to Sturgeon and their belief in the kind of identity politics agenda that ignores the economic structures that suppress the poor, but focuses on opportunities for members of specified disadvantaged groups to thrive within the existing system.
In practice these opportunities often benefit only some of the already wealthier people in society.
Put another way, neither the persistent gender pay gap, especially in low paid work, nor the increasing number of children in child poverty in Scotland, has in any improved whilst having, as deliberate positive discrimination, more female ministers.
The lives of the female ministers have however improved immeasurably.
Humza has removed or excluded from his cabinet Kate Forbes, Ivan McKee and Michelle Thomson, any of whom would have easily been the most talented in it.
I have seen it very little commented upon – perhaps because it is simply taken as read – but the fundamental criterion, indeed the only criterion, for inclusion as a minister by Humza appears to be enthusiastic support for Gender Recognition Reform in its pure and ideological form.
That compelled purity includes the rejection of the elementary common sense of excluding convicted sexual offenders (a tiny percentage of trans people) from self-ID, which political bullheadedness politically holed the entire project and unleashed a horrible and entirely avoidable wave of hatred against trans people.
Humza is essentially squandering his political capital like a lottery winner, doubling down on precisely the Sturgeon behaviours that caused at least 53,000 members to leave the party – and counting.
In 2022 on average the SNP lost 80 members per day. In 2023 up until the point true membership figures were released three weeks ago, it was losing on average 120 members per day.
It is probably fair to measure the number of active party members who are concerned primarily with culture wars, as being those who voted for Humza and refused to give a second preference to either Forbes or Regan. That number is 9,763 people.
These figures are actually important because they speak to the intolerance of opposition of the Humza camp. Almost 40% of Humza’s displayed their closed-mindedness by refusing to give any second preference, compared to just 16% of Kate Forbes’ voters.
Yet it is Kate Forbes’ supporters who are the ones being enthusiastically castigated everywhere as intolerant bigots, despite the fact the large majority of them not only gave their second preferences, they gave them to Humza.
Humza’s problem is not only that he has chosen his Cabinet from only his own supporters, and has thus ignored the views of over half the party members, whose first preference he was not. Humza has the much larger problem that in doing so, this only represents the 9,000 who voted for him and nobody else.
His Cabinet consists solely of those who wish entirely to limit the SNP to those who meet their measure of ideological purity – which for some inexplicable reason means commitment not to Scottish Independence, but to an absolute, unmoderated right for everybody to change their gender by declaration.
This is a serious break with the traditions of a party that was always the big tent for Independence supporters. Much more crucially, the election provided the opportunity for the SNP careerists who overwhelmingly backed Humza to come out as, de facto, devolutionists rather than Independence supporters.
There is a continuum from gradualist to devolutionist to unionist, and under Sturgeon the SNP had been sliding steadily down that scale. A long way down that scale.
This election gave the devolutionists license to “come out” and shed the pretence that they had any intention of doing anything about Independence in the next few electoral cycles. Independence became an “aspiration”, a “goal we should always keep before us”. While actually becoming Independent was decried a “process” discussion of which was pointless.
This derogatory relegation of becoming Independent to “process” was a rhetorical trick constantly practised by Humza himself. Yet again we are being told that we have to wait until support for Independence somehow, by magic, reaches a sustained level of 60% in opinion polls before we can even look at what that “process” is.
If that is now the stance of the SNP – and I am 90% sure it is – then I would take the view that it is incumbent upon real Independence supporters to oppose the SNP as a de facto unionist power structure.
That means Alba should stand against the SNP not just as a list party, but in First Past the Post elections too. Otherwise genuine Independence supporters could be left with nobody to vote
But – and this is a small but, as my hope is limited – I note that Alex Salmond, who knows Humza very well, has not yet written him off.
Humza has already requested an S30 for a new Independence referendum from Rishi Sunak. He did so orally but I presume a letter is following. He received the expected dismissive answer.
As you know, I think it is wrong to ask permission from London at all for Scottish self-determination. Asking permission is an admission ab initio you don’t actually believe in the right of Scottish self-determination.
But did Humza make the request in the spirit of homage to Westminster, or is it a formality he had to get out of the way to comply with his purported commitment to Sturgeon’s footsteps? The question is, now London has said no, will he have a plan B for Independence?
If so he needs to produce it in the next few weeks, or face mass desertion by SNP voters.
I am one of life’s sunnier optimists. I note that Humza frequently mentioned Independence, unapologetically, at his first First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood: about as many times as Sturgeon had voluntarily brought up Independence in the past three years.
Humza needs to find his inner radical, and that inner radical needs to act decisively.
I don’t expect it. But I am not entirely devoid of hope.
A brief question. For years this blog published very frequently short, snappy opinions, often only a few lines, on the issues of the day. More recently, probably in line with a trend in blogging, I have largely stopped that and this blog produces much more considered, longer form pieces.
I tend to confine short snappy thoughts to Twitter instead.
On the upside, the much shorter thoughts were not always produced with much quality of argument. On the downside, abandoning them (which just evolved, not by policy) has definitely damaged the existence of regular community in the comments section.
What do you think?
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