Humza Yousaf labelled 'weak' for failing to discipline serial SNP rebel Fergus Ewing

The former cabinet secretary has become a thorn in the First Minister’s side.

Humza Yousaf has been labelled “weak” for failing to discipline one of his most vociferous backbench critics.

Scottish Conservative MSP Edward Mountain told The Scotsman the failure to remove the whip from Fergus Ewing demonstrated the First Minister’s weak grip on party discipline.

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The former Cabinet secretary for rural economy and tourism, who was sacked by Nicola Sturgeon following the 2021 Holyrood election, has voted against or spoken out against his party on several high-profile issues such as the deposit return scheme, highly protected marine areas (HPMAs), and gender recognition reform.

Humza Yousaf and Fergus Ewing.Humza Yousaf and Fergus Ewing.
Humza Yousaf and Fergus Ewing.

He has likened DRS to the poll tax and tore up the Government’s consultation document on HPMAs.

Mr Mountain, the MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said he was enjoying watching Mr Ewing’s decision to challenge Government policy, but criticised his inability to do so while he was a Government minister.

He said: "I am delighted that Fergus Ewing is at last seeing the errors of his party’s Government and speaking out about them. It is a pity he didn’t have the backbone to do so when he was in the Government. I am sure his constant interventions will be annoying his colleagues.

"The fact that they are not removing the whip from him, and indeed the other rebels, demonstrates how weak Humza’s grip on his party is. Indeed it also just strengthens the Green’s grip on government policy, which will cause Humza further issues.”

Freedom of speech is a right that applies to MSPs like Fergus Ewing (Picture: Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA Wire)Freedom of speech is a right that applies to MSPs like Fergus Ewing (Picture: Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA Wire)
Freedom of speech is a right that applies to MSPs like Fergus Ewing (Picture: Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA Wire)

The failure to be publicly seen to discipline Mr Ewing and other rebels has annoyed some within the SNP. Some point to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill’s passing in December as the starting point for emboldened rebels.

However, it is understood former SNP leadership candidate Ash Regan received a formal warning for her decision to abstain in the same HPMA debate.

Ms Regan is also understood to be unhappy with the lack of consistency around how the SNP discipline their MSPs.

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The SNP would not comment on other sanctions against those who voted against the Government as part of the HPMAs vote. Disciplinary matters are considered internal.

Rebels voting against the Government included former finance secretary and narrowly defeated leadership contender, Kate Forbes, and loyal backbencher and MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan.

The criticism echoes language from former SNP spin doctor Murray Foote, who said the failure to tackle Mr Ewing’s “downright rude” behaviour was benefitting the opposition.

He told the Daily Record in May: “If Ewing is continually let off the hook, others will believe they too can act with impunity – and that again only benefits the opposition.

“The leadership team urgently needs to find a mechanism to restore that fabled party unity. Time needs to be called on the behaviour of politicians who mistakenly believe they are bigger than the party. The clock is ticking.”

The SNP were contacted for comment, but declined to do so.

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