SNP crisis

Yousaf quits after ‘sticking to principles over power’

Humza Yousaf announcing his resignation at Bute House today

Humza Yousaf resigned as SNP leader saying he would not trade his principles in order to hold on to power, and leaving his party at the peril of more horse-trading to stay in office.

In a nine-minute speech to a media conference he said he will continue as First Minister until a successor is appointed.

His resignation triggered a flurry of speculation over who will replace him, with former party leader John Swinney saying he is considering standing after receiving the backing of several senior figures. Former leadership contender Kate Forbes is also tipped to have another attempt at securing the job.

With a vote of confidence in the government still due this week, questions were being asked over whether the Scottish Greens – who were sacked from ministerial office last week – will continue to prop up the SNP administration and avoid it having to limp on as a minority government.

In a dignified and emotional farewell statement at Bute House in Edinburgh, the First Minister’s official residence, Mr Yousaf said: “I have concluded that repairing the relationship across the political divide can only be done with someone else at the helm.”

He said he believed the decision to end the cooperation agreement with the Green party last Thursday was right for the SNP and the country. He said that he had hoped to continue working with the Greens in a “less formal arrangement”.

He believed it was “absolutely possible” he could have won a confidence vote by cutting a deal with his opponents, but opted not to carry on after a weekend reflecting on his position.

After delivering his resignation speech he left without taking questions.

Mr Yousaf stepped down rather than face two confidence votes scheduled for this week after he left the government in chaos by tearing up the Bute House Agreement that brought the Greens into government in 2021.

He said it had served its purpose but indicated his displeasure that the Greens had called a meeting to discuss continuing with the partnership after the SNP abandoned a key climate policy.

Speaking today, Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “Humza Yousaf is right to resign. His position was no longer tenable after he broke the bonds of trust with the Scottish Greens and with everyone who wanted a stable, progressive, pro-independence government. 

“It is regrettable that it has ended this way, it didn’t need to. We draw no satisfaction or pleasure from this.”

With a vote on his leadership hanging on one vote, Mr Yousaf was unwilling to do a deal with former SNP leader Alex Salmond who called for an electoral pact with his Alba party to fight on a joint independence ticket.

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond offered Mr Yousaf his party’s support on condition of an electoral pact

Mr Salmond offered a deal that would have allowed Mr Yousaf to continue running a minority government, but the pact proposal was rejected by the First Minister’s spokesman as a fantasy.

Despite Mr Yousaf saying he was standing by his principles, Mr Salmond claimed he was ready to cut a deal this morning, but had been over-ruled by senior figures in the SNP.

“The problem for Humza is that he was not in control of his own party,” said Mr Salmond in a lunchtime radio interview.

The resignation of Mr Yousaf brings the curtain down on his leadership just a year after he was elected SNP leader in a narrow victory over Kate Forbes following the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon.

He became the first ethnic minority leader of a devolved government and the first Muslim to lead a major UK party.

Holyrood will have 28 days to elect a first minister by a simple majority.

Likely permanent replacements for Mr Yousaf are the Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth, Health Secretary Neil Gray, and Ms Forbes, though the latter would also fail to gain the support of the Greens. Mr Swinney, who was attending an event on devolution at Westminster, also has a number of supporters, including Westminster leader Stephen Flynn who has ruled himself out.

John Swinney
Support for John Swinney is mounting

Labour considers the crisis in the SNP as huge boost to its electoral chances and polling now puts the party ahead by a slender margin.

It is now polling 34%, a point more than the SNP, equating to Labour winning 28 seats in Scotland. The SNP would return 18 MPs, the Tories six and the Liberal Democrats eight.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Regardless of our political differences, I want to thank Humza Yousaf for his public service. In particular, Scots will remember the dignified way in which he acted while his loved ones faced danger in Gaza.

“For Scottish Labour, this has never been about one person – this is about 17 years of SNP failure.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Today will be a difficult day for Humza Yousaf. I thank him for his service and I wish him and his family well for the future.

“Humza Yousaf’s resignation hurls the SNP another step closer towards the end. This is a stale government that has been in power too long.

“Scotland needs a new government- one that won’t make empty promises but will get the basics right.”

Alba Party Holyrood leader Ash Regan, whose support may have kept Mr Yousaf in his job, said: “The irony will not be lost on many that the event that has cost Humza Yousaf his job was removing the Greens from Government- something most people in Scotland agreed with. 

“A new SNP leader and a new First Minister will not change parliamentary arithmetic. I continue to stand ready to work in the best interests of Scotland and to advance the cause of Scottish independence.”

Business calls for another reset

Business leaders predictably called for the next First Minister to focus on the economy and once again reset the relationship with government.

Mr Yousaf had been applauded for setting up of a “New Deal” committee bring business and government together, but there have accusations that ministers backtracked on commitments to promote growth.

There has been frustration at a stream of decisions, such as raising income taxes, cuts to the enterprise and housing budgets, and not passing on business rates relief awarded to businesses south of the border.

There was also a flurry of green measures, such as the deposit return scheme, that were seen as onerous and ill-thought out.

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said. “That early enthusiasm [for the new relationship] clearly waned as hospitality businesses and the licensed trade have continued to struggle since his arrival in Bute House and there appears to have been no real understanding, or willingness to understand, the myriad problems and challenges facing what is one of the biggest employers in Scotland.”

Tracy Black, director at CBI Scotland, said: “Whoever comes in as first minister must put addressing Scotland’s faltering economy first.”

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, added: “There is a pressing need to lift private sector investment, productivity and growth. After all, an expanding economy is good for living standards, job prospects and government revenues.”

Liz Cameron, the chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said the economy must be the central focus for any new leader.

“We need to be confident that the Scottish government is pulling in the same direction to support business, grow the economy and create jobs,” she said. “The next first minister must work with business to turbocharge our efforts to attract global investment and send out a clear message to the world that Scotland is open for business.”

Comment: Holding office was the downfall of the independence dream

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