Humza Yousaf is right, Scottish politics is 'toxic'. Now he needs to do something about that – Scotsman comment

Demonising political opponents and engaging in ‘culture wars’ are threats to democracy

It is good that Humza Yousaf has correctly addressed a major problem with politics in Scotland.

The First Minister, in an interview with Holyrood magazine, said that “… having been elected to this place [the Scottish Parliament] first in 2011, the atmosphere in 2011 compared to now is very different, and I and anybody who observes our politics, would say that the atmosphere here at times is more toxic than I think it’s ever been”. We agree that there is too much heat and not enough light in politics – and not just in the Scottish Parliament but the country as a whole.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Much of this is due to the platform given by social media to anyone with an opinion, including some of the nation’s most unsavoury, ungracious and unpleasant individuals. These people have always existed but they are now harder to ignore and their influence has proved to be a corrosive one, with increasing numbers of people seemingly driven to one extreme by their revulsion at the excesses of the other.

The trick for mainstream politicians is to show there is an alternative to divisive rhetoric, insults and abuse. To make criticisms of political opponents in a way that is respectful and polite, rather than contemptuous and dismissive. To debate policies and ideas, not stoke culture wars based on identity.

This requires old-fashioned leadership from politicians in the place of a seeming preoccupation with election-winning tactics, developed by spin doctors and focus groups. And it needs a degree of unity across all parties to show that they are willing to put their differences aside to remind voters that they are all human beings, and attempts to demonise public figures are fundamentally wrong, with dangers for democracy.

In 2017, then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and then Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson performed a comedy sketch in a lift for a special episode of Channel 4’s The Last Leg to mark a year since Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered. Five years after that heart-warming moment, Sturgeon decided to say, “I detest the Tories and everything they stand for”.

Scottish politics needs more light and less heat. We welcome Yousaf’s recognition of this and hope that he will now work with the other party leaders to set a more civil tone.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.