Humza Yousaf’s global focus makes him a failing SNP leader and even worse First Minister - Brian Monteith

Humza Yousaf should concentrate on being First Minister of Scotland, not a foreign policy expert, writes Brian Monteith

After the 1979 devolution referendum defeat it took another 20 years of campaigning to get a Labour government that delivered a Scottish Parliament. Now, 25 years on, it is only right the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee should examine how intergovernmental relations between London and Edinburgh have developed since 1999.

Our politicians could and should go further and inquire if the devolved parliament has actually fulfilled the hopes and aspirations of those who argued it would improve many facets of Scottish life. Unfortunately, as the scandal of the Post Office fraud convictions demonstrates, politicians are not big on discussing their own failings, so a full-scale review of devolution is currently unlikely.

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Maybe it will take a shocking TV drama exposing a litany of scandals delivered by our Scottish governments before the public demands not just the politicians directly involved but the institution itself be held to account?

If First Minister Humza Yousaf can find time for COP28 in Dubai, why can't he help his own MPs by attending the Scottish Affairs Committee in London?  (Picture: Christopher Pike /COP28 via Getty Images)If First Minister Humza Yousaf can find time for COP28 in Dubai, why can't he help his own MPs by attending the Scottish Affairs Committee in London?  (Picture: Christopher Pike /COP28 via Getty Images)
If First Minister Humza Yousaf can find time for COP28 in Dubai, why can't he help his own MPs by attending the Scottish Affairs Committee in London? (Picture: Christopher Pike /COP28 via Getty Images)

Episodes of the first series could include the huge rise in drug-related deaths; the fall in Scotland’s average life expectancy; the collapse in international education standards; the worst cancer recovery statistics among countries of comparable size; the attempt to legislate to remove women’s protection from male predators in their safe spaces – and many more appalling outcomes besides.

Until the dots are joined and it is recognised Holyrood itself is not fit for purpose and needs a significant overhaul, or abandoning altogether, we shall have to be satisfied that at least some consideration is being given to how devolution is playing out.

Full marks, then, to the living former First Ministers – Henry McLeish, Jack McConnell, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon – for agreeing to go before the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee to give their views and be open to questions.

I hope and expect they will have different takes on what has worked and what has not, so informed conclusions may be reached and myths might also be laid to rest.

What is inexplicable and, frankly, unforgiveable, is our current First Minister Humza Yousaf refusing to make himself available after also being invited to give the Committee the benefit of his wisdom and insight.

The good governance of Scotland is meant to be Yousaf’s bread and butter, his raison detre, yet he claims in a letter of 4 January, “that due to my extensive commitments as First Minister, I am unable to accept the invitation to appear before the committee”.

Arguing First Minister’s Questions and meetings with Committee Conveners preclude him going to London are the political equivalent of claiming to be washing his hair. And yet the First Minister manages to easily find time to go on overseas trips and focus on international affairs – a policy area for which he has no responsibility or accountability. As recently as 30 November Humza Yousaf was in Dubai attending the COP28 conference – for which he has no international relevance – rather than taking First Minister’s Questions in Edinburgh. This allowed him to duck being pressed on the dishonest behaviour of his Health Secretary, Michael Matheson, over the iPad expenses scandal.

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Yousaf also missed FMQs on 21 September because he was in New York attending another climate event at great expense, rather than being accountable to members of the Scottish Parliament.

Pete Wishart, the SNP member who is chairman of the Commons Scottish Affairs committee, stated publicly his “disappointment” the First Minister had not accepted the invite – I rather suspect his private thoughts were more blunt. Indeed, if I were a Scottish Nationalist MP I would be absolutely livid with anger Yousaf is not taking the opportunity to show solidarity with his own MPs by presenting the SNP case before the Commons.

One has to ask, did the SNP members really know what they were getting when it chose Humza Yousaf as its leader and our First Minister? While Yousaf focuses on foreign affairs for which he has no responsibility, Scotland's public services – which are fully under his control – go from bad to worse under his and the SNP/Green coalition.

Now the latest polling shows 24 SNP MPs, more than half, are expected to lose their seats in a general election. They need all the help they can get – but Yousaf’s focus is elsewhere as he has no election until 2026. If it is not the climate jollies getting him handshakes and photo opportunities with Turkey’s President Erdogan it is to the Middle East’s hotspots of Gaza and Yemen he turns. This helps him play to a particular demographic of the radical left and Islamist demonstrators – those rejecting a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israel. The people who do not call for the release of the remaining 136 Hamas-held Israeli hostages but shout about removing Jews from between the River Jordan and Mediterranean Sea – and are now yelling “Yemen, Yemen make us proud, turn another ship around”.

Yousaf should be sticking to Scotland’s domestic agenda and looking to repair his party’s appalling record on health, education, transport – and practically any other responsibility he has.

There are no votes to be had in opposing the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy in defending our international trade where Scots’ businesses and lives are at stake, just as there are no votes to be had in making Scotland a safe haven for killer dogs. Fortunately the public outcry about not matching the UK’s new laws on the XL bully breed brought a change in heart.

Humza Yousaf has to change more, and start focusing on improving Scotland’s public services for the good of all – not pursuing personal family agendas or strutting the world stage.​

Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments and editor of



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