SNP leadership race: Humza Yousaf's grievance politics contrasts with Kate Forbes' positive message about tackling poverty – Scotsman comment

The stirring words of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath have reverberated throughout seven centuries of Scottish history.

So Humza Yousaf’s decision to pitch his independence strategy in the Angus town may have promised much, but it spectacularly failed to deliver. His 2023 ‘Declaration of Arbroath’ could struggle to remain remotely relevant for seven days.

His big idea is to convince the UK Parliament to rewrite the Scotland Act to prevent Westminster from blocking Holyrood legislation and give MSPs the power to hold an independence referendum. And he made clear he would launch a legal challenge to the UK’s decision to prevent the gender Bill from becoming law.

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The problem with this new tactic to win independence is that it is not new, just a different way of asking the same question: can Scotland hold another independence referendum? And we already know Westminster’s answer. Furthermore, if Yousaf hopes to enable the Scottish Parliament to define the extent of its own powers, he will be disappointed. There has to be a mechanism to prevent Scottish and UK laws from coming into conflict.

Such rhetoric may send a message of defiance that appeals to the nationalist base, but it is the politics of despair. However much it stirs the passions of independence supporters, it does nothing to provide them with any real hope and will dismay others hoping the new Holyrood administration will focus on improving the lives of people in Scotland, rather than grievance politics and empty populism. Yousaf is acting like an opposition politician, rather than one in government.

In contrast, Kate Forbes has sought to send a more positive message. “My passion for independence is fuelled by my desperate, unflinching desire to eradicate poverty in Scotland,” she told the SNP hustings on Wednesday. Unionists will point out that the loss of the ‘Union dividend’ and new Brexit-style borders with the UK would make Scotland poorer, but her pitch gives a moral purpose to independence, while also suggesting a more practically useful approach to governing the country in the meantime.

The SNP cannot sustain itself in government by perpetually telling voters that independence is just around the corner. It needs to focus on the ‘day job’ or, to paraphrase Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland will continue to suffer from politicians whose eyes are continually “off the ball”.



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