Humza Yousaf's growing anger amid transgender row is a sign he's buckling under pressure of leadership – Susan Dalgety

Humza Yousaf is the one stirring up a culture war based on identity rather than focusing on kitchen-table politics such as the state of the NHS, our failing schools and the housing crisis

Why is Humza Yousaf so angry? His recent performances in Holyrood and his outpourings on social media suggest a man on the edge, unwilling to listen to opposing views, or even consider that others – particularly women – may have a different opinion to him. Instead, like a cartoon villain, he demands total obedience.

Take his reaction to women’s concerns over his government’s proposal for a Misogyny Bill. When the now infamous hate crime law was going through parliament three years ago, senior MSP Johann Lamont proposed an amendment to add sex to the list of protected characteristics: age, disability, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics.

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As she pointed out at the time, the case for including women was indisputable as they “understand hate crime more than any other group does”. Maybe so, but Yousaf, then Justice Secretary, thought he knew better than a feminist who had spent her adult life campaigning for women’s rights. Sex was not included in the bill, and instead Yousaf outsourced the issue to a working group led by Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, who recommended a separate law to tackle "the spectrum of misogynistic conduct”.

Women a sub-set of their own sex

Speaking to the BBC earlier this week, the now First Minister revealed that a new misogyny law, which he hopes will be in place before the next Scottish Parliament elections in May 2026, will protect trans women as well as “cis” women. “They [trans women] will often be the ones who suffer threats of rape or threats of disfigurement,” he claimed.

You could almost hear the collective intake of breath around Scotland as women heard the First Minister prioritise the concerns of men who are, in my view, masquerading as women over the real lives of women and girls. And by using by using the term ‘cis’, which is favoured by transgender activists to suggest there are two types of women – those of us born female and those men who decide they are women – Yousaf showed his true feelings. To the First Minister, women are nothing more than a sub-set of our own sex, a variation on a theme.

Humza Yousaf makes a point during First Minster's Questions in Holyrood on Thursday (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)Humza Yousaf makes a point during First Minster's Questions in Holyrood on Thursday (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
Humza Yousaf makes a point during First Minster's Questions in Holyrood on Thursday (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
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Little wonder that author JK Rowling responded by suggesting on social media that Yousaf had “once again” made his contempt for women and their rights clear. She added: “Women were excluded from his nonsensical hate crime law, now he introduces a ‘misogyny law’ designed to also protect men.”

Yousaf dismisses ‘faux outrage’

A confident, mature leader, one who had the interests of the whole country at heart, not just a handful of well-connected activists, would have ignored Rowling’s comments. After all, her views on the Scottish Government’s adherence to gender identity ideology are well known. Instead, a furious Yousaf took to social media the next day and hammered out a furious riposte, characterising those who criticised his approach as bad-faith actors “intent on turning every issue into a culture war”, and dismissed their “faux outrage” as if standing up for women’s sex-based rights was somehow an act of cynical deceit.

“Let’s engage in robust debate, but one based on facts, not deliberate disinformation,” he thundered, after suggesting that a man who threatens to rape a woman is unlikely to know if his intended victim is “born a woman or a trans woman”. Cue another, even deeper intake of breath from women from across Scotland, with many from the rest of the UK joining in. Helen Joyce, author of the best-selling book, Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, and director of advocacy for feminist charity Sex Matters, couldn’t hide her disdain. “Oh. My. GOD. Tell me he isn't SERIOUSLY claiming would-be rapists are unable to tell which potential victims are male and which are female?” she wrote.

Even one of the SNP’s best-known politicians, the MP for Edinburgh South West, Joanna Cherry, could not haud her wheesht, telling her party leader to “get real". “Misogyny is something experienced by women. Rape is a crime largely experienced by women. In my experience as both a prosecutor and a victim of rape threats, the men who make them generally have a pretty good idea that their victim is a woman. Let’s get real.”

Lost control of political narrative

Instead, the First Minister doubled down. In what some might describe as a sign of “faux outrage” over Tory leader Douglas Ross’s dogged questioning about the implementation of the hate crime law in parliament on Thursday, he angrily invoked his “bad-faith actors” jibe several more times. In Yousaf’s Scotland, only those who agree with him have the right to be heard. Everyone else, whether women demanding their fears about misogyny be taken seriously, or the leader of the opposition raising the concerns of frontline police officers, are acting in bad faith, deceitful attention seekers to be dismissed with a furious sneer.

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Admittedly, the First Minister has a lot on his plate. He has lost control of the political narrative, and appears to be a victim of circumstances rather than a man in control of his own destiny. Seasoned observers of Scotland’s political scene describe a man out of his depth, bunkered in Bute House, refusing to listen to advisers, preferring instead to trust his own instincts and, some say, those of his wife.

But he is the author of his own misfortune. It is he, and his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon, who stirred up a culture war based on identity rather than focusing on kitchen-table politics such as the state of the NHS, our failing schools and the housing crisis. As First Minister, he continues to promote the concerns of a tiny middle-class elite over those of the majority of Scots still recovering from the impact of a global pandemic and desperate for someone to take their lives seriously. Instead, their immediate future depends on a young man buckling under the pressure of leadership, who instead of listening, lashes out at those who dare to question him.