Humza Yousaf Tells The Truth
In another terrible day for all the SNP's leadership candidates, the most significant moment has been largely overlooked.
I know these newsletters are coming thick and fast this week. There’s just so much to talk about! None of the leadership candidates has has a great day, and I’ll give a quick round-up of that below. I also think that something really significant has happened…but more on that at the end of this edition.
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Regan Goes Full Fundy
Ash Regan has been confronted over her decision to take on Kirk Torrance of Alex Salmond’s Alba party as her campaign strategist. Working for Alba, Torrance promoted the infamous Robert the Bruce election broadcast that featured the long-dead King speaking of ‘breaking the spine of English domination’. Ciaran Jenkins of Channel Four News asked her about tweets where Torrance talked about Nicola Sturgeon being worse than Richard Nixon:
I wrote previously that I thought Regan had looked at the insurgent leadership campaigns of Liz Truss, Kemi Badenoch, Jeremy Corbyn, and perhaps even Donald Trump, and realised the power of appealing to your selectorate’s more extreme views. Now that she is on the ballot paper she has decided to pitch unashamedly to the fundamentalist wing of the nationalist movement. Her campaign won’t be pretty, but it might be effective.
Forbes Campaign Keeps Digging
Meanwhile, Kate Forbes's views on gay marriage and children born outside marriage continue to cost her. Nicola Sturgeon, having promised not to insert herself into the race, spoke out against her views saying:
“Scotland is a socially progressive country and I believe that is the majority opinion. Whoever is first minister, the views that they have on all sorts of issues matter because people look to their first minister to see someone who will stand up for them and their rights and the job of first minister on a daily basis involves responding to things based on your positions, your values, your outlooks.”
Increasingly isolated, Forbes and her campaign appear to be trying to sell her unpopular views as admirably honest. One of her backers, Jim Fairlie, tried the argument on for size.
This framing immediately made me think of the famous New Yorker cartoon where the sheep give credit to the wolf for admitting he’s going to eat them. I had hoped that, after a decade of damaging populism the world over, we had learned the lesson of giving people credit for being ‘straight talking’ when really they were saying the ugly things.
Yousaf’s NHS Failings Follow Him
I’m no expert in body language but just look at both Sturgeon and Yousaf in the clip below.
Little wonder the First Minister isn’t interested in his advice on the NHS. A scathing Audit Scotland report into his handling of the NHS was published today. Among its finding are:
25% fewer operations were scheduled last year than the year before.
Delayed discharge, which the SNP promised they would abolish, has gone up by 17% in a year.
The cost to the NHS of using agency nurses has nearly doubled since 2017.
Yousaf is on track to miss recruitment targets to deal with crises in areas like GP provision and mental health care. While the staff leaving rate is increasing.
Waiting times at accident and emergency, already far below targets for the last few years, are getting far worse.
This graphic produced by the auditor on how the post-pandemic backlog is getting worse rather than better under Yousaf’s leadership is utterly damning:
Humza Admits the Sturgeon Years Have Failed
To give the beleaguered Health Secretary some credit, he has said the most important thing in this contest so far. He told a truth that is at odds with the entire strategy of the Sturgeon years: the Scottish people don’t want to leave the UK.
This is significant because the strategic approach of the SNP in recent years has been to talk up the certainty of the break up of Britain, to claim that Scots are being held hostage in the Union, and to wait for the inevitable victory. His comments are an admission that all that talk of a ‘new settled will’ was a fiction.
Sturgeon’s inevitability narrative was embraced by the media in Scotland, and especially across the UK because it was frankly more interesting than the truth: that support for the Union has been remarkably resilient despite multiple self-inflicted crises. The departure of Nicola Sturgeon, just months before she claimed she was going to deliver the success nationalists have been waiting for, creates an alternative story: one of SNP failure.
Supporters of the Union should be careful here: just as the break up of the UK was never inevitable, neither is the decline of the SNP. It will take creating a new story about how change is possible within the UK, and building a new constitutional consensus. Yousaf’s comments offer a huge opportunity to ask fundamental questions about nationalist politics:
After nearly a decade of committing so much government resource to moving public opinion on Scexit, isn’t this statement an admission that the last few years have been a waste of time?
Given there is no sustained majority for leaving the UK, what is the justification for re-running the 2014 vote?
Without a sustained majority, the best that those behind a fresh effort to force the independence question can hope to achieve is a deeply divided country. Isn’t it better to unite people around what the vast majority of us want: making devolution work?
Will you work with an incoming Labour government to help them make devolution work or will any conversation with them only be about independence rather than devolution?