Euan McColm: Humza Yousaf's big problem is that the SNP has changed but Scottish voters have not

Party’s radical shift in tandem with Greens contrasts with the aspirational policies which brought previous electoral success

Humza Yousaf is a most conspicuous victim of circumstances beyond his control.

Within weeks of him becoming SNP leader and First Minister last year, police raids on party headquarters and the house his predecessor, Nicola Sturgeon, shares with her husband Peter Murrell, completely derailed his agenda.

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Since then, the police investigation has hung over the SNP like a thick, black cloud, overshadowing the First Minister’s every proclamation.

The re-arrest and subsequent charging of former SNP chief executive Murrell last Thursday moves the legal process forward but the process is slow. It could be many months before any court case and, during that time, Yousaf has no option but to roll with any collateral punches.

But, while the First Minister’s life has been made difficult by events over which he has no influence, he has created new problems for himself. Yousaf’s decision to push forward with Sturgeon’s agenda – despite the unpopularity of a number of policies – is an unforced error for which he continues to pay with falling public support.

I wonder if, when he was sworn in as First Minister a year ago, Yousaf imagined that he might one day find himself claiming that men who threaten rape don’t know whether their victims were born female or are transwomen.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Yousaf defended controversial plans for a new misogyny law to include, among the victims, those born male but who identify as women. The First Minister found it necessary to do this after feminist campaigners suggested a misogyny law that protects biological males is no kind of misogyny law at all.

When complaints were made that “women” had not been included among the categories of those protected under the new Hate Crime Act, ministers insisted this would have been a mistake. The new misogyny law would look after the specific needs of women.

This woeful explanation fell apart last week when it emerged the misogyny law would also include transwomen. Why was it the wrong thing to include women as a group protected by hate crime and misogyny laws but the right thing to protect transwomen under both pieces of legislation?

As the Scottish Government struggled to take control of the issue, Yousaf sent off a series of tweets, including his peculiar suggestion about confusion over the biological sex of victims.

Did he really get into politics for this sort of thing?

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Back in the foreign country of 2007, the SNP – under the leadership of Alex Salmond – won its first Holyrood election. After decades on the political fringes (older readers will remember the days when each street was permitted a maximum of one nationalist resident, a single bearded man in his sixties, wearing an oversized sweater with stains of dubious origin and carrying a Co-op bag full of pamphlets) the SNP moved into the political mainstream.

Key to the party’s success was the ability of Salmond and those closest to him to recognise the hopes and aspirations of voters. The SNP found the Scottish pulse and prescribed a series of policies designed to appeal to the aspirational working and middle classes. The Scottish nationalists did not become the dominant force in our politics by following a radical agenda. Rather, understanding the “small c” conservative nature of voters, they offered up free tuition for university students and free prescriptions for the wealthy.

Yes, times have changed in the 17 years since the SNP first came to power but not so much that the priorities of voters have become completely rearranged.

Right now, Scottish voters want a better NHS, better schools, and greater economic growth. Back in 2007, according to polling carried out at the time for the BBC, they wanted improvements in schools and health.

If you want to know just how out of touch this Scottish Government is with the people it was elected to serve, look at its pitiful reaction to the publication of a major report, by leading paediatrician Dr Hilary Cass, into the treatment of gender-questioning young people by the NHS in England. The Cass review – which, among other issues of concern, highlighted the lack of good science behind prescribing “puberty blockers” to children – created days of headlines across the UK yet it took almost a week for the First Minister to say a word on the matter. And, when Yousaf spoke, he completely misjudged the public mood. The Cass review is not just of interest to gender ideologues, it matters to the same people whose priorities remain the NHS and education, it matters to the many parents who read its conclusions and expected a serious response from Yousaf.

Instead, the First Minister lamely offered up a promise to give Cass’s findings his “utmost consideration”. Meanwhile, there was no need to intervene on clinical matters.

A day later (and entirely unconnected, I’m sure, to growing pressure from within the SNP Holyrood group for the Scottish Government to at least give the impression it was taking this matter seriously) it was announced that the Sandyford clinic in Glasgow – which runs gender services – had, in line with similar facilities in England, stopped prescribing “puberty blockers” for new patients.

This may have gone some way to placating worried voters but it enraged Yousaf’s partners in government, the Scottish Greens, whose LGBT wing launched a petition calling for an urgent meeting to discuss the party’s future in government.

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Tweeting about the Sandyford announcement, the Rainbow Greens described the Cass review as an “internationally discredited social murder charter”. There comes a point at which we must permit ourselves not to take certain people seriously. The Rainbow Greens have passed it.

Humza Yousaf is perfectly entitled to put the obsessions of gender ideologues over the priorities of the majority of voters but he shouldn’t be surprised when this comes with a price at the polls.

When, I wonder, did the SNP stop recognising Scotland?



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