Brian Monteith: Humza Yousaf's actions call his judgement into question

Does the Humza Yousaf enjoy the full confidence of the First Minister? I ask this question because the Justice Minister had a difficult week and, with bad news about Scotland's public services emerging almost daily, Nicola Sturgeon does not need one of her Cabinet Secretaries demonstrating he is unfit for the particular office he holds.

For one thing there is a question mark hanging over the First Minister for selecting Mr Yousaf for the role of Justice Secretary in the first place. Having a conviction for driving without appropriate insurance that he picked up while a transport minister was not a recommendation.

Every day the actions of Humza Yousaf suggest he is unfit for that office and the First Minister does not act, compounds the question surrounding her judgement. If the minister had any sense of self-awareness, and what is appropriate behaviour for a justice minister, he would spare Nicola Sturgeon her blushes and decide to relinquish his role and spend more time with his family.

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With Humza Yousaf’s penchant for being in the limelight such voluntary sacrifice is as unlikely as the First Minister admitting she can be so demonstrably wrong in judging people.

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf. Pic: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

In an interview published this month Mr Yousaf talked freely of his upset at the criminal investigation into his former colleague and leader, Alex Salmond, on accusations of sexual misconduct. He described it as “utterly heartbreaking” but there was no report of his thoughts for those who might be intimidated about bringing such charges against men of power, no revelations about his concerns towards how alleged victims might feel.

There was no sense of awareness how he – as Justice Secretary – might make those women, and other women in similar positions who are yet to speak up – feel by showing more concern for Salmond than for women potentially abused. Nor did he appear aware he might be contributing to a public perception – before any possible future jury trial – that Alex Salmond’s character is beyond question.

Surely he should have refused to comment on the matter at all, other than to acknowledge the legal proceedings were in place and precluded him from revealing his own thoughts?

The week then really took off when an Edinburgh Labour councillor, Professor Scot Arthur, who like Humza Yousaf, is a highly active tweeter, invited his followers to take part in a Twitter poll that he devised. For those that do not Tweet I can advise this is a common practice, sometimes in seriousness to establish opinion, sometimes in jest to poke fun at others. Cllr Arthur’s question was, “What attracted Humza Yousaf to politics?” A) The 9/11 attacks, B) The Iraq War, or C) The photo calls?

Now I have not happened to mention Humza Yousaf’s religion in this article so far, which is intentional, because I do not think his religion (or lack of one) should matter in his conduct as Cabinet Secretary for Justice. For Humza Yousaf, however, Cllr Arthur’s Tweet was prejudiced against his faith and race, indeed it was so hateful that when it was brought to his attention he wrote to the leader of Edinburgh Labour Council Group and called for Cllr Arthur’s immediate suspension.

Now at this stage you may want to read the Tweet again. It suggests there might be three reasons Mr Yousaf went into politics and one might guess that the point of such a poll was to ridicule the subject by putting the narcisstic attraction of photo calls as the last answer. But why list 9/11 and the Iraq War – was that racist or Islamophobic?

Actually the origins of those first two answers is that only a few days before Humza Yousaf had said in the same interview that 9/11 – when he was 16-years-old – was “hugely to do with where I am today”. This appeared to conflict with a previous comment given to the Herald where Mr Yousaf said, “The Iraq war was the trigger for my politics”. So was it 9/11 or the Iraq war – or was it that politics is attractive to people who like being in the limelight? A political opponent had spotted an inconsistency and no doubt thought it worth calling out the Justice Secretary’s forgetfulness.

9/11 was a crime against humanity in which, other than the evil perpetrators, hundreds of innocent Muslims died. As is often the case in Islamist terrorist attacks, be they bombings, shootings or vehicles mowing people down, Muslims are innocent victims too.

The same goes for the Iraq War – which was prosecuted against a secular state and where people of all religions and none, and of many races died. The US Secretaries of State during its time were Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, both black Americans. Many Muslims served in Operation Desert Storm and the campaigns that followed. It would be a perversion of the truth to suggest it was a war against Islam, or even a particular section of Islam.

Nevertheless, such is the nature of social media outrage that it was not long that Cllr Arthur felt he had to unreservedly apologise for his Tweet and deleted it, while the Labour council leader reprimanded him publicly.

I know I am not alone in looking at that tweet and not seeing racist or Islamophobic abuse. What I see is a politician undermining real cases of abuse by overreacting and playing the hate crime card. Humza Yousaf is a regular tweeter who is not backwards at attacking opponents and often winds-up supporters of Rangers FC. It’s never racist or sectarian, of course.

The problem for those, like Mr Yousaf, who wish to flaunt their opinions about possible objectionable behaviour of others, is that it can easily lead to hypocrisy when comment is difficult if a new example is too close to home. Unfortunately for the Justice Secretary, who is a Glasgow politician and can be expected to know what is happening in his own domain, an SNP Councillor, Russell Robertson, appeared in Glasgow Sheriff Court last week after being charged with aggravated religious prejudice for allegedly calling his neighbour an “Orange bastard”.

Was there a tweet from the Justice Minister? Maybe a letter to the SNP council leader, Susan Aitken, calling for his immediate suspension? No, he was utterly silent.

Either the Justice Minister is embarrassed by Mr Robertson’s alleged bigoted behaviour or is at last learning that keeping his counsel is more befitting for the Justice Secretary. A long period away from Twitter is the least he could do for his leader.

Brian Monteith is a director of think-tank Global Britain