Within an hour or two of Humza Yousaf's narrow and controversial victory in the SNP leadership election, which led to the SNP ceasing to be a party actively trying to win independence for the first time since at least 1942, I wrote a blogpost explaining how difficult it was going to be if I decided to continue with this blog. I could no longer in all good conscience enthuse about any good polling results for the SNP (not that I expect there to be any for the time being), because they would just bolster Yousaf's position and push independence further away. They would also, incidentally, make the SNP themselves more likely to suffer election defeats, because the 2017 general election demonstrates that the SNP's weaknesses may not become apparent in the polls until very close to election day, meaning that an illusory healthy position in the polls prior to that could lull them into the complacency of thinking they don't need to do anything about the problem of Yousaf being an extremely unpopular leader. But nor could I in all good conscience cheerlead for poor SNP polling results, because if independence is ever going to happen, there needs to be a strong SNP left for Yousaf's successor to inherit.
Over the last month, I've tried to navigate that minefield as best I can, but inevitably I've started to attract 'fan mail' stating or implying that I'm a traitor to the cause, because I'm critical of Humza Yousaf, who is apparently now the worldly embodiment of the concept of independence - even though he's opposed to trying to win independence in any circumstances likely to exist in the real world. Essentially, Yousaf forms part of a long tradition of First Ministers and pre-devolution Scottish Secretaries who had no intention of enabling Scotland to become an independent country on their watch. Other examples include Jack McConnell, Donald Dewar, Michael Forsyth and Malcolm Rifkind. Supporting those politicians would self-evidently have not helped to bring independence closer, and the same is true of Yousaf. In fairness, he's not identical to those predecessors because he's nominally pro-independence and pays plenty of lip-service to the idea, but that's a distinction without a difference unless you believe that a government treading water for years on end, but remaining nominally pro-independence while doing it, is somehow going to reap dividends later on. In reality, the reverse is probably true, because voters tend to grow sick of governments eventually and replace them, so all the SNP are doing right now is squandering the opportunity to win independence while it's actually there.
I know some people will argue that the above also applied to the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon, and will point out that I thought trying to bring down Nicola Sturgeon was a counter-productive thing to do. Well, I still think it was a counter-productive thing to do, and we're seeing the evidence of that before our eyes right now. There are a number of key differences between Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf that demonstrate the two to be in completely different categories from each other -
1) For most of her period of office (admittedly not all of it), Sturgeon had a stated and credible plan for winning independence. Of course there was a question mark over her sincerity, because the plan kept changing and the timetable kept being pushed back and back, so some people naturally concluded she had no intention of ever going through with it. But that remained an open question for as long as a plan of some sort was on the table. It's possible she wasn't entirely sure herself whether she was ever going to deliver what she promised, and it's also possible she would eventually have been shamed into keeping her word whether she liked it or not. A comparison would be with Tony Blair endlessly stringing his MPs along about a ban on fox-hunting in England, but eventually giving in to them against his own instincts because he recognised the reality that he'd pushed people's patience as far as it was ever going to go.
Yousaf is fundamentally different, because there's no ambiguity over his position. He promised during the leadership election to abandon all plans to win independence for an indefinite period, and that's exactly what he's done. That's why the devolutionist wing of the SNP were so ecstatic in their anonymous briefings to the press after Sturgeon resigned. It wasn't enough for them that the SNP was doing nothing about independence in practice. They wanted the words to match the actions and for the SNP to openly embrace being a party that has stopped trying to win independence and that is getting on with other stuff like GRR challenges and the abolition of jury trials. That is what they've now got, at least for as long as Yousaf remains in harness.
2) Nicola Sturgeon was extremely popular with the public, and Yousaf is extremely unpopular. That has a concrete impact on the independence cause, for two reasons. Firstly, a pro-independence government needs to be in power if independence is ever going to be won, and if the SNP have an unpopular leader it becomes far more likely that a unionist government will take power in due course. And secondly, if a vote on independence ever takes place, the prospects of a successful outcome become infinitely poorer if the pro-indy First Minister is disliked by the public (not least because they would see that person as the Prime Minister-designate of an independent Scotland). It's paradoxical that Yousaf has set himself a higher target for the Yes support required to win independence than the 50% + 1 that Sturgeon accepted as sufficient, because that just further increases the credibility gap when Yousaf says he is the guy that will (eventually) get us there. In his short time in office, he's already reduced SNP support to the 30s - light-years away from his ill-defined supermajority threshold which presumably must be in the mid-50s at least. So even if you're crazy enough to think Humza's 'sustained supermajority' narrative is the way to win independence, you'd have to accept the evidence staring you in the face that Humza himself will have to be replaced before the idea ever has a hope in hell of working.
3) Yousaf represents factional rule to a greater extent than Sturgeon. This is a matter of degree, because the factionalism plainly started with Sturgeon herself - the sacking of Joanna Cherry (and the way it was done), the trashing of Alex Salmond's legacy, etc, etc. But Yousaf has taken it into a whole new dimension, with all but one of his ministerial team being people who supported him during the leadership election. Factional rule is the institutionalisation of internal division, and divided parties generally do not win elections or referendums. What Yousaf has done has certainly not gone unnoticed by the public - the new YouGov poll shows that voters regard the SNP as divided, and the opposition parties as united.
4) Sturgeon was universally accepted as the rightful leader, whereas the process that led to Yousaf being narrowly elected is widely and rightly regarded as rigged. I think the SNP establishment reckon the manner in which Yousaf became leader will eventually fade from memories and thus become irrelevant, but that couldn't be more wrong - it'll haunt him forever unless the issue is addressed. Whether you call that a "re-run" or a "leadership challenge" or a "stepping down to allow the members a fresh vote to decide if they wish to confirm my position", it amounts to the same thing. In order to move on, the SNP need to have a leader chosen through a fair electoral process.
What all of the above tells us is that if we are going to win independence, Yousaf either has to be replaced or he has to (at the very least) reverse course by appointing his internal rivals to senior positions in government and by reintroducing a credible plan for winning independence. The latter course of action is so improbable that it's safe to assume he would only do it if he felt his leadership was under imminent threat. So from our own point of view, the conclusion is the same either way - if we're serious about independence in anything like the foreseeable future, we need to press for fresh leadership.
* * *
If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop to continue, donations are welcome via direct Paypal payment. My Paypal email address is:
If you wish, you can add a note saying "for the fundraiser", although even if you don't do that, it'll be fairly obvious what the payment is for.
If you don't have a Paypal account, last year's fundraiser is still open for donations HERE.