Humza Yousaf is a loser – but we Unionists mustn’t get complacent

·3 min read
Humza Yousaf is joined by supporters during his final event of the SNP leadership campaign at the proposed site of the Eden Project in Dundee, Scotland
Humza Yousaf is joined by supporters during his final event of the SNP leadership campaign at the proposed site of the Eden Project in Dundee, Scotland

Humza Yousaf should have won the SNP leadership contest far more easily than he did. Not only was he widely recognised as the favoured choice of the outgoing Nicola Sturgeon and the rest of the party’s establishment, but a truncated leadership contest sprung on his relatively inexperienced rivals gave them little time to change the game.

So for him to squeak home by a margin of just over 2,000 votes and a final round vote-share of near enough 52 per cent against 48 per cent for Kate Forbes – that classic ratio striking again – entitles us to regard him as a relatively weak, lightweight and frankly substandard replacement for Sturgeon.

This does not mean that unionists can stop sweating on the future of the United Kingdom. At times during the contest Yousaf exhibited some degree of charm, calm and composure, performing quite well for instance in televised debates. His acceptance speech today was well-judged too, stressing the need to broaden support for the separatist cause and pledging to work constructively with the UK Government as well as with Ms Forbes and Ash Regan.

But there is nothing in his track record to suggest he is good enough to set off a spontaneous new wave of support for separatism that could get it over the line. To do that he would need to be able to change the minds of traditionalist voters alienated by the soft-Left and “woke” SNP political eco-system in which he has anchored himself. And yet he could still take advantage of events and circumstances should they become propitious for the independence movement.

Other things being equal, one would expect his SNP to be more vulnerable to Labour eating away at its vote share than was the authoritative Sturgeon’s regime. The fact that nearly a third of SNP members could not even be bothered to vote in the leadership contest tells us that they did not regard any of the three candidates as worthy successors.

The stand-out performer in the contest was Kate Forbes, who came back from maternity leave to add greatly to her reputation and leave herself well-placed to take on the leadership if Yousaf proves as accident prone in the top job as he has been in the major portfolios he has occupied thus far. This is also true should he prove simply too Left-wing to win over a new tranche of voters to separatism.

Yousaf has time to boost his profile among the Scottish public, but many of his “cut through” moments so far have involved negative events. First there was that speech in which he was so outraged that nearly all the top jobs in Scottish public life were occupied by white people. At times he even appeared to spit the word “white”. And apparently it never occurred to him that in a country that is 95 per cent white – more so among the over-45 age group that furnishes the cohort for the most senior jobs – this was only to be expected.

The other classic Humza Yousaf moment came when he was filmed scootering along a corridor and then fell over in classic Mr Bean fashion. Those of us with long memories were put in mind of Neil Kinnock’s authority-shredding slip on the wet pebbles of Brighton beach some four decades ago.

The odds are heavily against him ever convening a stable majority of Scots for breaking up the United Kingdom. But given that British politics has produced such a series of tales of the unexpected in recent years, there is no room for complacency at all.