29 Apr 2024

Political Insider: Humza Yousaf resigns as Scottish First Minister

MHP's Public Affairs team provide their take on the dramatic events in Scotland over the last week


Half a week is a long time in politics. Last Thursday, Humza Yousaf summoned Scottish Green Ministers Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater to Bute House and informed them that their party’s services were no longer required in his SNP minority Government, formally ending their 2021 power-sharing agreement (the Bute House Agreement). Just a week later, Yousaf has been forced to resign, admitting that he “clearly underestimated the amount of upset and hurt” that he caused the Greens. So how did ditching a party of 7 in a Parliament of 129 force Yousaf out?

Following the Scottish Government’s dropping of a key pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 203

0, the Scottish Greens announced they were going to put the Bute House Agreement to a membership vote. In anticipation of a negative result, Yousaf pre-emptively ditched the cooperation pact between them, sparking deep upset and anger within Green Party circles.

Spotting an opportunity, no confidence votes in the Scottish Government and Yousaf as First Minister were called by the Conservatives and Labour parties and backed by the Greens and Lib Dems. After doing the political arithmetic, Yousaf came to the conclusion that he wasn’t going to survive them and resigned, sparking off a leadership contest.

As it stands, there are several front runners to take over as SNP leader and First Minister: Kate Forbes, former Finance Secretary and runner-up in the 2023 SNP leadership contest, would represent a departure from the Salmond-Sturgeon dynasty with her socially conservative views. John Swinney, former party leader and Sturgeon’s deputy, is seen as a safe pair of hands by the party. Jenny Gilruth, Scottish Education Secretary, and Neil Gray, Scottish Health Secretary are also seen as potential candidates.

Yousaf has committed to staying on as First Minister until his successor is elected “as soon as possible”, having learnt a vital political lesson: always make sure you have the numbers.

Labour Analysis

Joshua Kaile, Public Affairs, Associate Director and former Labour Party advisor

After 17 years remarkable years of power in Scotland, today feels like it could potentially be the beginning of the end to SNP rule.

Just 15 months ago this would have seemed like an almost laughable proposition, but the fall has come about almost as sharply as their rise to total political dominance in Scotland.

Today’s resignation from First Minister Humza Yousaf was moving at times, with personal reflections and tears in his speech. He reflected on his political miscalculation last week that has seen the abrupt end to his brief premiership. He might have outlasted the lettuce, but he has ultimately been defeated by the Greens.

Humza appears to have fatally misjudged how much ill-feeling could come from his decision to terminate the Bute House Agreement between the SNP and their coalition partners the Scottish Greens. That misjudgement has ended his leadership, but it may have also irreparably damaged his Party, with no opposition group particularly keen to bail them out of the hole that has been dug.

Then there is the ongoing investigation into the SNP’s finances which has seen the former Chief Executive of the SNP, and husband to former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, re-arrested this month.

Labour are particularly keen to capitalise on the struggles in the SNP, both in Holyrood elections and Westminster. Earlier this month Labour overtook the SNP in Scottish Westminster polls for the first time since the independece referendum a decade ago, leading by 33% to 33%. The SNP were faring slightly better in Holyrood polls, leading Labour by 28% to 25%, but that is likely to change in light of recent events.

We are likely to hear Keir Starner and Labour in Westminster comparing the chaos in both the Tories and SNP, urging for elections in both Parliaments allowing for the puiblic to vote for change. Whilst there are clear differences between both, Labour will compare political leaderships that have been in power for 14 and 17 years respectfully, and now seemingly putting their party before the country.

The new leader of the SNP, whoever they pick, has an almighty task ahead of them to turn around the fortunes of the Scottish National Party with a resurgent Labour Party snapping at their heels.

Conservative Analysis

Mario Creatura, Director, Public Affairs and former Conservative Downing Street Special Advisor

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon built the SNP into a seemingly unstoppable political force, dominating Scottish politics with an iron grip on the electorate.

In that context, Labour were essentially locked out of Scotland – unable to win constituencies north of the border, they’d instead need to wrestle control of the Red Wall and Home Counties constituencies from the Conservatives to gain the keys to Downing Street.

That was until Humza Yousaf became First Minister. Elected in the midst of Sturgeon’s scandal, he was always going to find it difficult to lead an SNP/Green coalition in Holyrood.

His poor political decision-making and perceived weakness has boosted Labour morale in recent months, leading them to hope they could take a decent clutch of constituencies in Scotland, reducing pressure on the need to perform well in England.

With Yousaf gone, all eyes will be turned to who comes next. Will the SNP pick someone with the nationalist fire of Salmond and Sturgeon? Will they pick a powerful communicator with a nous for navigating the social issues at the heart of Scottish political debate? In short: will they pick someone that can help the SNP regain control of the narrative, and solidify their crumbling support in key constituencies?

This could be significant. If polls start to close when the election is called then Starmer failing to win as many Scottish seats as previously hoped might make all the difference to the size of his Parliamentary majority.

Whether it’s a speedbump on Labour’s drive to power, or a far more impactful obstacle to scale, will depend on who the SNP pick as the next resident of Bute House.

No pressure.

MHP will be keeping you up to date with the latest news and analysis in this important election year. Please contact [email protected] for further information.


Latest News

See all News
22 May 2024

General Election Insider: Starmer and Sunak’s Date With Destiny

A General Election will be held on Thursday 4th July, 2024. So, what happens next? Our Public Affairs team discuss....See More

22 May 2024

Winners of the 30 To Watch: Journalism Awards, 2024

This is the 13th year of the 30 To Watch awards and once again the calibre of entries has been outstanding....See More

See all News