SNP leadership contest: Humza Yousaf pledges to empower Scotland's rural communities as First Minister
Mr Yousaf, who a recent poll identified as leading the race for Bute House, insisted his plans were a “win-win” that would boost investment and create jobs.
Mr Robertson said: “Political parties are only successful if they work together effectively; with unity of purpose, talented team players, best tactics and a winning mentality. Humza Yousaf is the SNP leadership candidate with the strongest commitment to progressive values, the strongest membership backing from all levels of the SNP and is a committed team player. It has to be Humza.”
Mr Yousaf has already secured the support of education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, transport secretary Michael Matheson and social justice secretary Shona Robison. Neither of his rivals, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, have secured Cabinet backing.
Speaking on a visit to Lanark, Mr Yousaf outlined the steps he would take to help rural communities. These included expanding the Scottish Government’s plans for a rural visa pilot – a scheme to allow rural and remote communities to attract migrants in line with their distinct needs.
He also set out his commitment to investing £25 million as part of his rural housing plan, which would see empty homes purchased, or long leased, and turned into housing for key workers and those who need affordable housing in rural areas.
Mr Yousaf said: “My plans are a win-win for Scotland’s rural communities – backing business, boosting investment, creating jobs and tackling labour shortages. The Labour-enabled Brexit, that Scotland overwhelmingly did not vote for, has hit our rural communities especially hard, creating a black hole for funding and workers. We know agriculture, tourism and hospitality businesses are often suffering the most.
“As Scotland’s next first minister, I will empower our rural communities by working to expand and support the rural visa pilot to tackle the labour shortages caused by Brexit and I will work to deliver rural housing to tackle the trend of depopulation.
“I know that for many people, particularly younger people, finding somewhere to live in our rural communities is a real challenge. That’s why I have published my rural housing plan, which would see empty homes purchased, or long leased, and turned into housing for key workers and those who need affordable housing in rural areas.
“If elected, I’ll commit £25 million to launch this pilot meaning more work for smaller local builders and tradesmen to repair and restore those empty properties, ensuring all parts of our economy feel the benefit of turning empty properties back into houses for those who need them the most.
“I will also back increasing council tax on second homes to encourage them back into full time use.”
Mr Yousaf said he would boost community ownership of renewable energy and help properties with alternatives to expensive off-grid fuel, as well as decentralising jobs in the Scottish Government and other key public bodies to create more employment opportunities in rural Scotland.
Scottish Conservative rural affairs spokeswoman Rachael Hamilton accused him of “brass neck rhetoric”. She said: “Instead of promising the earth to rural communities, the trio of candidates running to be first minister should be apologising for the SNP's appalling record in standing up for them during their 16 years in office.”
Elsewhere, Ms Forbes shared her experience of returning to work after maternity leave in the hope of inspiring other women. The leadership hopeful, who is still on leave from her role as finance secretary, gave birth to her daughter Naomi in August 2022.
Ms Forbes visited the Halo project in Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire, to meet female entrepreneurs and business leaders. She said: “There were comments when it was first mooted that I might stand that it wouldn’t be possible for me with such a young family. And yet, it needs to be possible. And if I can do it, then I hope that’s pioneering and supports other women who might want to go back into work, into challenging jobs, with a very young family.”
Ms Forbes said finding the right balance was “hugely challenging”, adding: “I’m speaking to you this morning having not slept terribly much at all last night, because of a seven-month-old baby that screamed constantly all night. So I’m not saying that it isn’t really difficult. And ultimately, it’s about the support network that you have around you, which is why for families and for mothers who might not have that support network we need to do more as a government to provide support to them.
“I’m certainly here with the lived experience, the scars and bags under my eyes, when it comes to how difficult it is.”
Meanwhile, Ms Regan, the self-confessed outsider in the race, outlined her plan to rapidly accelerate affordable house building if elected first minister. She said she was committed to delivering an additional 100,000 homes by 2035.
She added: “To meet this, the Government I lead will introduce a Housing Bill within the first year, which will establish ‘Homes Scotland’, a non-governmental executive body aimed at accelerating the housing efforts. It will prioritise the release of land to local authorities and developers and self-builders, who often build to a higher standard, and reduce bureaucratic obstacles, thus enabling faster building.”
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