Humza Yousaf's first year as First Minister: I tried to think of one significant achievement, but I can't – Murdo Fraser

Hate Crime Act disaster should prompt First Minister to sack the Cabinet member responsible – himself

Something struck me as I read the ‘think’ pieces on Humza Yousaf’s first year as First Minister, and it wasn’t just the fact he doesn’t seem to have had an original thought in the last 12 months. However well written, they all seemed incomplete. A bit missing. Because they all read like a political obituary without the punchline. That his career is over.

I had hoped to reflect on the First Minister’s time in office with magnanimity, in response to his hateful words about Scottish Conservatives (as yet unreported to Police Scotland), by finding one thing he has done right. I genuinely couldn’t find one.

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It might be too much to ask him to improve our schools in just a year as their international standing plumbs new depths. There were few expectations he would improve health as he was one of the health ministers responsible for getting our NHS into the dismal state it is in. But it marks someone truly special that, with all the powers at his disposal, he has not managed one single victory.

Humza Yousaf meets staff during a visit to visit the National Treatment Centre at Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy on Monday (Picture: Lesley Martin/PA)Humza Yousaf meets staff during a visit to visit the National Treatment Centre at Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy on Monday (Picture: Lesley Martin/PA)
Humza Yousaf meets staff during a visit to visit the National Treatment Centre at Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy on Monday (Picture: Lesley Martin/PA)

Continuity SNP leadership candidate

Of course he was the man Nicola Sturgeon never intended to be her successor – that is allegedly why she gave him the health brief. But just weeks after assuring the nation that she had to stamina to go on, and on, and on – another line she borrowed from Margaret Thatcher – Ms Sturgeon told us she had suddenly run out of puff and it was nothing to do with a police investigation into her party’s finances.

Mr Yousaf was then transformed from hopeless Health Secretary into the ‘continuity’ leadership candidate. If you wanted Ms Sturgeon’s ‘good work’ to continue, then he was the man to do it, although this assertion was first made before Police Scotland erected a tent in her front garden. As befits the nature of the SNP under her tenure, the rules of the leadership campaign appeared rigged in his favour. The timetable was remarkably short, spending limits tight, and the entire establishment backed him.

The only serious challenge to him was from Kate Forbes, who was just finishing maternity leave at the time. The reaction to her Christian beliefs got her campaign off to such a bad start it was thought she would withdraw, and yet despite all her mistakes and all Mr Yousaf’s advantages, she came within a whisker of beating him. One more week, many thought, and she would have. So really it was clear from day one. Even with the cards stacked in his favour, Humza plays them poorly.

Flawed judgment

Left to his own devices, he appears to have no devices. In policy terms, his one ‘innovation’ was to reach back to the 2007 election manifesto and, off the cuff at his party conference, offer an uncosted return to a council tax freeze. At a time when local government is strapped for cash, it was an old gimmick to get through a weekend without caring about the consequences for the people of Scotland outside the hall.

When it comes to handling political crises, his judgment seems just as deeply flawed. His handling of the iPad scandal of ex-Health Secretary Michael Matheson was a masterclass in how not to deal with a serious problem. He supported his minister even though he knew his story was flawed and that he would have to go in the end. But on and on the scandal dragged.

Now Mr Matheson will always have the word ‘disgraced’ as a prefix, can never come back to office, and may have to resign from Holyrood. That might not have been the case if the First Minister had the judgment, and the guts, to act decisively, and now, when another minister inevitably ends up in difficulty, Mr Yousaf’s backing will count for nothing.

Yet any situation the First Minister handles, he manages, somehow, to make worse. His electoral strategy has also been criticised from the most unusual of quarters – his own side. With polls ahead of the UK election suggesting the Scottish Labour party may gain half of the SNP’s Westminster seats, Mr Yousaf has decided to say that it is the Scottish Tories who are in his sights.

This can’t go on

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Now my career goes back a fair way but I am almost certain that this is the first time in Scottish political history that an SNP leader has attacked the Conservative party and been in turn attacked by his own side for doing so. But from Ms Sturgeon’s old chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, to veteran MP Pete Wishart, Mr Yousaf has been condemned for his words.

This cannot go on for the country but, sadly, we will have to wait for the men and women in grey plaid in the SNP to decide it cannot go on for their party and ask him to stand down before there is change. The next Humza crisis has already started – his Hate Crime Act, with Police Scotland investigating and recording vexatious claims of hate even when they are dismissed, while they don’t have the resources to look into a number of other real crimes.

In other circumstances, the First Minister might get away with sacking the minister who piloted the Bill, but since that is Mr Yousaf he would have to sack himself. Hold on – that could be the best thought he has had all year.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife



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