Humza Yousaf already appears to have run out of steam, but his government still has two years to go – John McLellan

As a new Scottish Parliament session begins, it feels like SNP politicians can’t wait for the summer break

Your elected representatives will be trudging back to Holyrood today for the last session before the summer recess, an 11-week run-in without a break, in what already feels like the fag-end of a tired Scottish Parliament. But, as the UK readies for change, the Scottish Parliament will stay the same for two years, two years of increasing resistance to what the SNP-Green coalition thinks is good for us and an agenda for which a growing number of people did not realise they were voting.

Approval ratings are low for all the current political leaders, but that only 29 per cent of SNP supporters believe Humza Yousaf is doing a good job is quite an achievement. SNP support is now down to 31 per cent, according to YouGov, which if reproduced on the day would see its number of MPs cut from 43 to 18.

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Fearful nationalist MPs can’t look to Holyrood for a lifeline, and the new session will get off to a flyer with this afternoon’s ministerial statement on the implementation of the Hate Crime and Public Order Act. By any stretch of the imagination, an unmitigated public relations disaster, Mr Yousaf’s administration will try desperately to pin the blame on vexatious complainants, especially those who reported his now infamous “white” speech when justice minister in 2020.

Much of the Scottish Government's programme smacks of legislators searching for something on which to legislate and the products of pressure group lobbying (Picture: Mike Boyd/PA)Much of the Scottish Government's programme smacks of legislators searching for something on which to legislate and the products of pressure group lobbying (Picture: Mike Boyd/PA)
Much of the Scottish Government's programme smacks of legislators searching for something on which to legislate and the products of pressure group lobbying (Picture: Mike Boyd/PA)

Rape trials without juries

But the arrest, search and short detention of a 74-year-old Troon woman on suspicion of committing a hate crime on the say-so of a nuisance neighbour says everything anyone needs to know about the atmosphere and confusion that this legislation has caused. For that, the buck stops squarely at the door of St Andrew’s House, and there will be more of it tomorrow when the Scottish Conservatives lead a debate in which they will call for its repeal.

The temperature isn’t likely to be turned down next Tuesday when the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform Bill comes up for its stage-one debate, controversial legislation which proposes to create pilot rape trials under a single judge without a jury which, if implemented, could lead to a raft of appeals from those denied what until now was a basic legal right, and see rapists go free as a result. The new Victims and Witnesses Commissioner smacks of the creation of an expensive and confusing layer of bureaucracy, and one which has run into trouble in England.

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The following day, the Children (Care and Justice) Bill reaches its final stage, which will include the withdrawal of controversial plans to ban the identification of anyone under 18 who is a witness, victim or perpetrator of a crime because of unforeseen consequences arising from a flawed consultation process. For Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay, it’s as if all his Christmases have come at once.

Of the other 24 live bills, the Gender Recognition Reform Bill was passed 17 months ago and is going nowhere after being blocked by the UK Government. Similarly, the catchy European Charter of Local Self-Government (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill went through over three years ago, only for the Supreme Court to rule some provisions were beyond Holyrood’s powers. The Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill is linked to the botched deposit return scheme, also blocked by the UK Government because of its impact on the single UK market.

Bovine viral diarrhoea

It's not to say there is not important legislation on the conveyor belt, such as the Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill, which provides the framework for local tourist taxes, but much of the rest of it is procedural stuff unlikely to enthuse a Scottish public increasingly disenchanted with the choices on offer. A myriad of plans bubbling under in the consultation process, like heat in buildings, bans on conversion therapy, the “Good Food Nation”, marketing restrictions on food and drink high in fat, sugar or salt, and biodiversity laws, all spell trouble for the SNP. Legislation for the eradication of bovine viral diarrhoea could be a euphemistic metaphor.

Readers can, of course, make up their minds about these plans, but so much of it smacks of legislators searching for something on which to legislate, and the products of pressure group lobbying. But with so much division – and in the case of Gender Recognition Reform, and the failed named-persons’ scheme, outright rejection by a clear majority – the claim by retiring MP Stewart Hosie that the SNP “has always been, and will continue to be, Scotland’s voice” does not stand up to a moment’s scrutiny.

Mr Hosie has never been short of confidence, but the polls show that never mind Scotland, the SNP is losing its place as the voice of the independence movement. And with Mr Yousaf’s tumbling approval ratings, and prominent SNP figures like Kate Forbes and Fergus Ewing diverging from the current orthodoxy, it’s even questionable if the leadership is the voice of SNP members. “Whether that’s in councils, in Holyrood, at Westminster and on the world stage,” Mr Hosie told the Herald on Sunday, without a hint of irony.

National ‘values’

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Yet the Voice of Scotland has nothing to say about Dr Hilary Cass’s devastating indictment of gender clinics, the use of puberty blockers and irreversible changes in the bodies of children, which cuts across the SNP-Green position on trans rights. A government apparently dedicated to the protection of children was silent for days, the Voice of Scotland appearing to develop selective laryngitis.

Mr Yousaf will gargle the political Benylin before addressing the STUC congress in Dundee later this week, trying to maintain the conflation between the SNP and national “values”, whatever they may be, to stem Labour’s advances. “I will be calling on people to vote for what they believe in, and vote for a progressive future for Scotland that I know we all want to see,” he is expected to say.

And this from someone who conjured up the unprogressive council tax freeze? When even SNP supporters are looking for a different delivery man, for nationalists the summer can’t come quickly enough.



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