A new leader for a new era

Humza Yousaf’s efforts to find a way through the two votes of no confidence expected this week have proven unsuccessful, and he has stepped down as First Minister. The infuriated Greens have refused overtures from the SNP to back Humza Yousaf in the Tory vote of no confidence. By siding with the Tories the Scottish Greens have done themselves no favours, leaving many independence supporrters as infuriated as Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater were last week, in a fit of petulance they risked bringing down a pro independence government which remains committed to combatting climate change and for that many SNP supporters will think twice about giving them a second preference vote in a future Holyrood or local election. For its part the Alba party clearly overplayed its hand with reports that Ash Regan did not just want SNP support for her referendum bill, which might have been doable, but she was going much further and seeking an electoral pact with the SNP for the Westminster general election expected later this year.

This was not acceptable to many in the SNP, doing a deal with a party for which unremitting hostility to the SNP has been a founding principle and a continuing feature. It would have given Alex Salmond huge influence within the SNP, which would be anathema to many in the party. If the deal with the Greens led to accusations of the tail wagging the dog, this would have been the case on steroids in the case of a deal with Alba.

Say what you like about the Scottish Greens, but they have a proven track record in getting MSPs and councillors elected under their own banner, the party got eight MSPs elected to Holyrood in May 2021 and has 36 councillors in 13 local authorities, all of whom were elected as Scottish Greens. By way of comparison Alba has two MPs, one MSP, and one councillor, all of whom were elected as SNP candidates but later defected, the party rarely registers over 2% in opinion polling and is widely perceived as a vehicle for Alex Salmond, who remains one of the most unpopular figures in Scottish politics.

Just as the Greens stand accused of threatening to vote with the Tories in order to bring down a majority pro-independence government, the same accusation can also be levelled at Alba, a party which claims to put independence front and foremost. That will not do Alba any favours amongst the SNP supporters it needs to court if it is to have any chance of ever winning an election on its own merits.

If the SNP needs to move on from the Sturgeon era, it most certainly also needs to move on from Alex Salmond. In their day both were hugely powerful and influential figures capable of winning many thousands of votes, but the key phrase there is ‘in their day’. Their day has passed. What the SNP needs now is to look forward to a new generation of leadership, not to look back to the past. Both Salmond and Sturgeon were at the height of their powers when there was a Tory government at Westminster, the era of large C Conservative rule is coming to an end and Westminster looks set to enter a phase of small c conservative government under the right wing Labour party of Keir Starmer.

That new political ecosystem requires new ideas and new faces. The immediate challenge is to get through this week’s votes of no confidence. The Greens have already signalled that their issue is with Humza Yousaf, not with the Scottish Government as a whole. The Conservative vote of no confidence in Humza Yousaf is now rendered moot given his resignation as leader of the SNP and his decision to stand down as First Minister as soon as a successor can be found. By resigning he has put the stability of the Scottish Government ahead of his own career and ego, and for that he should be commended. Humza Yousaf will continue as interim First Minister until a successor as SNP leader can be elected by SNP members. He is a politician who has not been given due credit by a resentful Scottish media for his very genuine successes. Under Humza Yousaf Scotland is the only part of the UK which has avoided strikes in the NHS, an achievement which BBC Scotland begrudgingly glossed over in under thirty seconds even though it had obviously been gearing up for a wall to wall SNP bad-fest should strikes in NHS Scotland had taken place.

We must assume that this resignation will satisfy the Scottish Greens, who we can hope will now vote to support the Scottish Government in Labour’s vote of no confidence in the Scottish Government, which is still likely to go ahead this week.

The First Minister must perforce be an MSP, however there is no reason why one of the SNP’s Westminster MPs cannot stand for leadership of the party while being represented in Holyrood by an interim First Minister until he or she can be elected to Holyrood. My own favourite candidate would be the SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, who has been consistently impressive in the House of Commons, and I very much hope that he will stand. He is the calibre of politician who can skewer the hypocrisy and lies of the likely new British Government of Keir Starmer who wraps himself in the flag and claims to be opposed to nationalism. At just 35, he belongs to the post devolution generation of Scots who have lived all their adult lives with a Scottish Parliament and an expectation that it is perfectly natural for Scotland to govern itself. He could stand as party leader on a twin ticket with Neil Gray or Jenny Gilruth.

Kate Forbes has also been mentioned as a possible successor to Humza Yousaf but there are doubts about whether she could receive the necessary support from the Scottish Greens who would require assurances that her personal socially conservative views would not inform her policies as First Minister. She is also viewed with suspicion by many on the left of the SNP and it may prove to be a tall order for her to bring the different wings of the party together.

However whoever wins through the party must avoid the bitterness and rancour of the last leadership election and we must hope that whoever does finally prove victorious will reach out to his or her opponents and give them prominent posts in the Scottish government.

Tory Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has responded to Humza Yousaf’s resignation by urging his successor not to focus on Scottish independence. The man who is obsessed with sending vulnerable asylum seekers on a one way trip to a brutal East African dictatorship said that Humza Yousaf’s successor must focus on policies that people care about. I strongly suspect that there is a considerably greater proportion of people in Scotland who care deeply about progressing the case for Scottish independence than the proportion of people in the UK as a whole who passionately support Sunak’s campaign of performative cruelty against marginalised, powerless, and desperate human beings.

Despite its many challenges the SNP remains the only pro independence party with a proven track record of winning elections and being only political vehicle for the independence movement with broad based support. This period of uncertainty will pass. Support for independence remains undiminished and this blog will continue to support the only political party with a realistic chance of bringing the dream of independence to fruition. Others can snipe from the sidelines and devote their energies to attacking independence supporters with whom they disagree, that’s not my job. With a new leader from a younger generation, the SNP remains the party of Scotland’s future.


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