Scottish independence: Humza Yousaf needs to come clean with the SNP supporters about the chances of another referendum – Euan McColm

Faced with falling support for the SNP, Humza Yousaf is full of empty promises about independence

Addressing SNP members at his party’s conference in Aberdeen on Sunday, Humza Yousaf could not have been clearer. Independence is his priority and victory in a majority of Scottish seats at the next general election must be the trigger for secession talks with the UK Government. Addressing SNP members at his party’s conference in Aberdeen yesterday, Humza Yousaf could not have been clearer. The economy is his priority and now isn’t the time for discussions about how independence might be achieved.

That’s clear then. So far as the First Minister is concerned, independence is both top of his to-do list and a secondary issue. Sceptics – among whose number I include myself – are entitled to wonder why Yousaf has ended up taking such an incoherent stance on his party’s central mission: how can the achievement of Scottish independence be both urgent and a matter for another day?

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The answer, I’m afraid, lies in the First Minister’s weakness as a leader. Throughout her time at the top of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon tantalised members and, indeed, all supporters of independence with the prospect of a second referendum. Disappointed by defeat in 2014? Not to worry – there would be another vote along soon.

In each and every election campaign, Sturgeon told her followers they were on the brink of achieving the break-up of the UK. And those followers believed her. They continued to do so, even as she continually failed to deliver Indyref2.

Eventually, Sturgeon – in a quite spectacular display of plot-losing – declared the next general election would be a “de facto referendum” and even her most loyal colleagues started to wonder about her grip on reality. Had Yousaf been a stronger leader, he would have levelled with his party on day one in his new job.

He’d have told them that the only way to get the UK Government to agree to a second referendum was to build support to the point at which independence was the clear and sustained preference of most Scots. To a degree, he did that yesterday, telling delegates that they had work to do in order to create that solid majority.

But just two days earlier, he led SNP members to believe an election result where the party won most seats – which would be unlikely to represent the majority of votes cast – was enough. Yousaf knows fine and well that the general election result won’t trigger independence talks with the Prime Minister of the day. He knows that the UK Government will turn down any overtures to begin discussions.

Faced with the reality that support for the SNP is ebbing away, Yousaf has reached for the Sturgeon playbook and is promising the undeliverable. This is the act of a desperate man. Strong leadership is telling your followers what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.

How, I wonder, is he going to rebuild support for his party if it appears he prefers to focus on a constitutional debate in which he cannot compel opponents to participate? Yousaf should have been honest with SNP members and the country on Sunday and yesterday. There is no second independence referendum on the horizon.



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