Why ‘Humza the Brief’ resigned

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As Humza Yousaf floundered in the wake of his decision to ditch the Scottish Greens from his government last week, former FM and Alba Party leader Alex Salmond warned his successor risked becoming known as “Humza the Brief”. And so it has come to pass.

At a press conference this afternoon, the embattled Yousaf announced he would be resigning as Scottish first minister, admitting he had “clearly underestimated the level of hurt” he had caused Green MSPs by ending the party’s government ties in such an uncouth manner.

“For a minority government to be able to govern effectively and efficiently, trust when working with the opposition is clearly fundamental”, he said. “Repairing a relationship across the political divide can only be done with someone else at the helm.”

Indeed, Yousaf’s announcement today came in Bute House (his official residence in Edinburgh) — the very same forum he declared the disorderly demise of the Bute House coalition just four days ago. It was a move meant to signal a bold new departure for his government, but as Yousaf conceded today: “Politics can be a brutal business”.

The soon-to-be former first minister knows he has paid the price for a grave error of judgement: the stark chasm between political intention (revival) and outcome (resignation) is a testament to that fact. My Week-in-Review column had more on this point.

In the end then, Yousaf’s decision to terminate the Bute House accord — and the manner in which he conducted it — constituted an exercise in self-immolation not seen in UK politics since Liz Truss.

After all, it was the Scottish Greens who read Yousaf his last rites on Thursday by announcing they would back a vote of no confidence in the first minister. The arithmetic, lest Yousaf bend to the will of Salmond’s Alba Party (which might have possessed the deciding vote via MSP Ash Regan), was against him. “I am not willing to treat my values and principles or do deals with whomever simply for retaining power”, the FM declared today.

The SNP ‘baton’

As for the transition of power, Yousaf said he would continue as first minister until his successor is elected “in order to ensure a smooth and orderly” process.

But who would be willing to receive the SNP “baton” — to borrow Yousaf’s metaphor today? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the FM has left his party in a far worse position than when he found it just over a year ago. Indeed, if Yousaf inherited a poisoned chalice from Nicola Sturgeon, just how should we refer to the assignment left to his successor?

Reports have suggested that the former SNP leader and deputy FM John Swinney has been urged by colleagues to serve as a leadership contest takes place or, even, succeed Yousaf on a permanent basis as a unity candidate.

However, for Swinney to succeed Yousaf as a unity candidate, former finance secretary Kate Forbes — who came second in the 2023 SNP leadership contest — would need to stand aside. Forbes’ recent rebellious streak could suggest she is likely to challenge an attempt at coronation.

There are also broader questions over whether this SNP psychodrama begins to erode support for Scottish independence in the country at large. Support for separation has proved remarkably resilient over recent months, despite a string of SNP scandals. Has the independence movement, therefore, genuinely disentangled itself from the fate of the SNP? And will this trend continue with likely further acrimony to come? Moreover, is this development, if it holds, positive news for the SNP or deeply negative as other pro-independence vehicles surface?

These are some of the many questions Yousaf leaves in his wake. Only time — and a potentially fractious leadership — will tell which of the SNP number will be tasked with answering them.

Lunchtime briefing

Humza Yousaf resigns as Scottish first minister

Levelling up policy a ‘work in progress’, admits Michael Gove

Lunchtime soundbite

‘I’m afraid you’ll be seeing a lot more of me from now. You are truly everything to me’

—  In an emotional end to his press conference this afternoon, Humza Yousaf thanks his family for their support: “I am in absolute debt to my wonderful wife, my beautiful children and my wider family for putting up with me over the years”.

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