Artillery Row

So, farewell then Humza

One man was very impressed with Humza Yousaf’s resignation speech

“You often get these moments of emotion in the resignation of prime ministers and first ministers,” the man from the BBC observed as a tearful Humza Yousaf headed for the door. And weepy political resignations do indeed seem to come along with increasing rapidity. If it feels like it was only last year that a choked-up Nicola Sturgeon announced she was off, that’s because it was.

It is customary at these moments to talk about the burden of high office, the under-reported contribution to public life made by the newly-departed, and perhaps the characteristic that both took this politician to greatness and then brought them low. But even Yousaf’s tragic flaw — an inability to count to 64 — turns out to be essentially comic.

Every once in a while a politician comes along who can follow paths no one else even sees. One thinks of Alexander Hamilton building the Federal Reserve, or Lyndon Johnson passing the Civil Rights Act. Yousaf, it is clear, is not one of these politicians.

“Last week I stood here to announce the ending of the cooperation agreement between the SNP and the Greens,” he began. This had been, he said, the right decision for both his party and the country. So why were we here? “Unfortunately,” he went on, “I clearly underestimated the level of hurt and upset I caused Green colleagues.”

It would be fascinating to know what level of hurt and upset Yousaf had expected to cause his coalition partners when he sacked them from their government jobs without notice. But it turns out that his cheerful assurance to them that they would still be allowed to vote in support of his government wasn’t the compensation they were hoping for. 

Not, at least in his account, that this need have been a problem for him in the imminent confidence motion. Survival was “absolutely possible”, he said. This was a reference to the idea of making a pact with the SNP’s hero-turned-nemesis, Alex Salmond. However, “I am not willing to trade my values and principles or do deals with whomever, simply for retaining power.”

This noble self-sacrifice was only slightly undermined an hour later, when Salmond popped up on the BBC to reveal that Yousaf had been on the phone that very morning, saying that the proposed trade of his values and principles sounded “very reasonable”. The deal had been nixed, apparently, by dark “forces” within the SNP.  

As ever, Yousaf turns out to have been at the mercy of personalities stronger than his own. He won power following the tracks laid down for him by Sturgeon, and he was taken off the rails by her, too. Though he’s managed them ineptly, the troubles of his government have largely been ones bequeathed by his predecessor, who reached the getaway campervan just in time.

As for the rest of Yousaf’s statement, it had all the self-satisfaction so familiar from the SNP. He was “incredibly proud” that Scotland had a “a fair tax system,” he said, “where those who earn the most, contribute the most.” In England, it is well-known, anyone earning over £50,000 is exempt from all taxation so long as they can satisfy the authorities that they’ve thrashed a peasant in the last fiscal year.

Not everything is great in Scotland, of course. “Let us also acknowledge,” he began, and we wondered what he might talk about. Drug deaths? Failing school standards? “Far too often, in our country, hatred continues to rear its ugly head,” he said. “In a world where every issue seems to descend into a toxic culture war, it is often the most marginalised in our society who bear the brunt.” This probably wasn’t a reference to embattled first ministers, but it did sound like one. 

“Each and every one of us must resist the temptation of populism,” he went on. Like culture wars, populism is something of which the nationalists are convinced everyone else is guilty. It’s an irregular verb: He is a populist, you are inciting hatred, I am simply pointing out that my opponents are personally guilty of genocide.

He had more wisdom to impart. Other parties, he said, should “not just oppose for opposition’s sake”. Comedy is tragedy plus distance: in Edinburgh, where the SNP are in government, that sounded plaintive; in London, where they very much aren’t, and act accordingly, it was hilarious.

The good news, Yousaf assured us, was that independence was just around the corner, “frustratingly close”. Indeed, he went on, it would be achieved if only the rest of the country could see what he’d seen, “if only every person in Scotland could be afforded the opportunity of being first minister for just one day.” It’s a prospect that, given the rate at which the SNP is going through leaders these days, might also be approaching fast.

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