Scotland's First Minister: SNP's new leader Humza Yousaf won't bring the change that the country desperately needs – Jackie Baillie
Truth be told this is not the start of something new, it is the beginning of the end of an old, tarnished and discredited dynasty. It is ironic that the new season of TV series Succession, the dark family drama starring SNP supporter Brian Cox, was the biggest media event ahead of the changing of the nationalists’ guard. I think the sword fighting of the fictional Roy family as they battle to the death will be a pale imitation of what we are about to see in real life.
It is becoming increasingly clear the change people want to see is not at the top of the SNP. A new mood is in the air and reflected in tightening polls. A change is coming right across the land and the departure of Nicola Sturgeon was as much a symptom as a cause of that. The frustration that SNP members have expressed about the lack of progress she made on her independence cause – support is no further forward than it was in 2014 – is echoed by the growing anger the wider public feel about the lack of progress in Scotland during her eight-year reign.
Sturgeon’s sudden departure from the stage she dominated created a nationalist vacuum quickly filled by the divisive and bitter SNP leadership campaign which has split the party on the economy, on social issues, on electoral strategy and even its real reason for being. I do wish Humza Yousaf well, as he approaches the highest office in Scottish politics.
At a relatively young age, he may well be daunted by the challenges ahead. As a new SNP leader, he will have to expend a huge amount of energy trying to stabilise a sinking vessel and dousing fires of rebellion in the ship’s hold.
Divided parties do not win elections and the deep splits exposed in the leadership campaign make renewing the SNP in office all but impossible. The serious public policy challenges, the ferries with painted-on windows, the lengthening NHS waiting lists, the poverty gap, and the attainment gap in our schools, these will languish while the power struggle in the SNP continues beyond the ballot result. We will all suffer because of that.
Scotland needs a vision for the future which amounts to more than a hollow promise from shallow candidates to achieve independence in the next five years. Though at least the contest has allowed the SNP to accept what the rest of us acknowledged some time ago, that the independence cause, a juggernaut which ran out of fuel in 2014, is now parked in a lay-by with two flat tyres.
The Sturgeon-era fixation on the constitution meant that everything else slipped off the agenda and was given second-rate attention. For example, our economic growth is projected to be lower than that of the rest of the UK because business and job creation have been neglected.
It should be acknowledged that the SNP’s central mission, with its disastrous consequences, has haunted business investment and decisions. A turbulent economy needs stability, the echo of thunder from the banking market in the last few weeks is a sign that politicians need to focus on growth and making the country as resilient and stable as possible. Our health service needs to be re-anchored after years of mismanagement under the SNP. We have huge health inequalities linked directly to poverty itself.
Scottish Government statistics – published just hours before Sturgeon’s final First Minister’s Questions – estimate that a quarter of all Scotland’s children are living in relative poverty. These grim figures reveal there has been “little recent change” in child poverty levels and that will be an eternal badge of shame for the SNP and their most successful election winner.
The cost-of-living crisis, the NHS and the economy must be the priority for any incoming First Minister. One in four children are living in poverty and one in seven Scots are on NHS waiting lists. Building a 21st-century health service where well-being, as well as welfare, are part of the package must be the priority for recovery after years of SNP misrule. These are the issues that the Scottish Labour party will focus on and a UK Labour government under Keir Starmer will transform.
Aiming to be the fastest-growing economy in the G7 and to be a clean energy superpower are not throwaway pledges. Labour’s GB Energy corporation – the publicly owned energy company the SNP promised but failed to deliver – is a £28 billion promise which will turbo-boost Scottish jobs. Constitutional change will come with the abolition of the House of Lords and more devolution to Scotland, Wales and across England – principled and practical changes that will make the country work better rather than work against itself.
Sturgeon is expected to tender her resignation as First Minister to the King today and a parliamentary vote will take place in Holyrood to formally nominate Humza Yousaf as her successor. He will be officially sworn in at the Court of Session tomorrow, after which their new Cabinet will be unveiled, if it is possible to convene one from the wreckage of the succession battle.
Scotland is crying out for change and the truth is that Scotland does not need a new SNP First Minister, Scotland needs an election and a Labour government.
Jackie Baillie is MSP for Dumbarton, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader and her party’s spokesperson for health
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