Humza Yousaf should heed the fate of no-compromise Theresa May

  • First published in : Visit Website
  • First published on: 31st Mar 2023

To the victor the spoils.  Humza Yousaf won, and he has decided to fashion a government of his supporters, vanquishing the losers and their supporters to the backbenches, notwithstanding the loss from government of some of the SNP’s best talents in Holyrood. Of course, that is his right, and it may well turn out to be the best thing for him to have done. Time will tell. However, there is a lesson from recent history that when, after a divisive campaign, you are on the winning side with a win as narrow as 52%/48%, the best thing to do is to reach out and take some at least of the losing side with you.

That was the situation in which Theresa May found herself after the Brexit vote in 2016. She could have compromised, reached out to the 48% which included our own nation and Northern Ireland. But she didn’t. Instead she drew red lines and retreated behind them. And we all remember how that went. Within less than a year she had lost her parliamentary majority and, within three years, her premiership.

Kate Forbes said that continuity won’t cut it. Ash Regan wanted a major reset of the party’s strategy.  Together they won 48% of the membership vote despite having the forces of the party machine and establishment lined up against them. It is crass to see this as having been a battle between right and left, progressive and conservative. Kate and Ash share Humza’s desire to redistribute wealth, it's just that Kate is a bit more interested in how we create it.  Ash has always been on the left of the party she just doesn't think that allowing any man to self-identify as a woman is terribly wise never mind progressive, and events have proved her right.  Rapists in women’s prisons does not a progressive society make.  The procedures around changing legal sex require safeguards. 

Humza was seen as the continuity candidate, but he repositioned himself for change as a result of the success of Kate and Ash’s campaigns.  Yet what now really will change?  As Lampedusa wrote in ‘The Leopard’ – “Sometimes everything must change so that everything can remain the same.”   Is that what we are seeing here? For the sake of our country, my party and the Independence movement I hope not. 

Scotland’s new Cabinet and ministerial team all seem to have been supporters of the new FM. Sadly, this makes pledges during the campaign for a bigger tent approach to government and party ring hollow. The talent and experience on the SNP backbenches are certainly now equal to that of front bench. And as for a new generation of the SNP in power, the reality is that the new government consists of the remnants of the older generation together with the natural heirs and successors of those who have retired.  It really would be a mistake for them to get rid of all dissenters, pretend that the events of the last few weeks never happened and pick up where the last government left off.

Concerns about party membership numbers which were dismissed and ridiculed have turned out to be true. Concerns about the management of the party’s finances are the subject of a police investigation.   If there are other problems, we would do well to get them into the open now and start working to fix any underlying issues. There is a window of opportunity to tackle any problems which might exist head on and make sure things are put right. But at the moment I don’t have a great deal of faith that will happen. For the sake of my party, I hope it will.

The SNP is the vehicle for independence but as I’ve said previously under Peter Murrell it’s been a bit like driving in 2nd gear and with the handbrake on. We’ve not got very far and there’s a bad smell. The Party has an opportunity to refresh itself and get on a proper campaign footing. The job of Chief Executive should be advertised, and applicants sought from outside our current staff pool.

Campaigning for a likely general election in early May 2024 will start to gear up at the start of next year. The Labour Party is limbering up they are well underway with their candidate vetting and selection. They think they can take anywhere between 12 and 20 seats off the SNP.  This must not be allowed to happen because of poor planning.  The SNP vetting and selection process has in the past been dogged by delays and very late selection of candidates. Even in seats where we know a sitting MP is standing down, we don’t have candidates picked and working the local area, being trained and refining their skills ready for a bruising general election campaign. At annual conference activists had to put forward an internal motion to force the party executive to work on updating and modernising our key campaign tool Activate. Our corporate structures, governance and campaign tools all badly need an overall. We have talent in the party desperate to help.  We should be accepting these offers of help not rebuffing them.

The party's independence strategy clearly needs the sort of reset Ash called for.  Whether or not you like her suggestion or the former FM’s preference for a de facto referendum, either way the party needs to have a proper discussion about what to do and a vote on the way forward. Regional assemblies are all very well but in the past their product has been chewed up and spat out by the party machine. It is not so easy to do that with the constitutional policy making processes of our conference. 

In the meantime, the very best thing that the new FM can do to advance the cause of independence is to restore the SNP’s reputation for governing well. It’s a little tarnished at present, there are some big policy challenges in the fields of NHS, education and transport, to name just a few. We need radical action not more virtue signalling legislation which dominates parliament and committee time then ends up not in force because of flaws which were warned of in advance.  

Finally, our new FM would do well to tackle the impression that in the SNP, unless you are Nicola Sturgeon, it does not do your career well to be a strong, smart woman of independent mind.  That, for sure, is not in the least progressive.  

Joanna Cherry KC MP


    • Joanna Cherry 139 Dundee Street, EH11 1BP
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