The plaid panther strikes again

Cartoonish scenes unfold north of border as Humza Yousaf drives off a cliff in crime comedy caper


You do not have to say anything, but anything you do say may be used in evidence against you. As with the cops, so it is with the press. You never have to comment, especially if you’re First Minister of Scotland. You can sweep past cameras imperiously. You can refer reporters to your well-staffed press office.

And yet no one seems to have told Humza Yousaf this. As each moment of the five-dimensional horror show that is the Scottish National Party in 2023 emerges, up pops Yousaf, to offer us his thoughts.

And let’s be clear, these surely are his thoughts, unmediated by anything as sophisticated as “spin” or “damage control”. The first minister seems to be gripped by a compulsion to speak whatever words have just popped into his brain, without the slightest consideration about what impact this might have on the situation. It’s compulsive viewing, the political equivalent of watching a toddler determinedly trying to work a fork into an electrical socket.

NONE OF THEM, I wanted to scream at the TV. NONE OF THEM!

And so on Tuesday, after the arrest of his party’s treasurer Colin Beattie, Yousaf wandered into a group of reporters in the Scottish Parliament, and decided to have a chat with them. On camera. Perhaps he hoped they wanted to ask about the speech he was due to make an hour later. Or the weather.

They did not, however, wish to discuss the weather.

“Well look, I can’t comment on a live police investigation,” Yousaf began, before commenting on the police investigation that was still, very much, live.

And just how live was that investigation? Well… “Obviously I’ll have to speak to Colin,” the first minister (at the time of writing) went on. “My understanding is that he’s still in the police station being questioned.”

At this point his eyes widened in horror at what he was saying, a reflex that may have been an attempt by the part of his brain that controls facial muscles to signal to the part of the brain that controls speech that the fact that his colleague was still in a police interview room was a terrific reason to simply shut up.

The message, however, did not get through. “Clearly when he’s off that,” Yousaf went on, “I want to have a word with Colin.” I bet you do, mate. “Not about the live police investigation,” he hastily added. “We can’t speak about that.” No, we had already established that he couldn’t speak about the live police investigation which he was currently discussing.

He looked round, trying to work out which question to answer first. NONE OF THEM, I wanted to scream at the TV. NONE OF THEM!

Are you surprised by the arrest, someone asked. “Ah well,” he began, as if considering his mental list of SNP officials, sorted by likelihood of getting their collar felt. “Yes of course I’m surprised when one of my colleagues has been arrested.” Though it is presumably less surprising each time.

Was this going to derail his big speech? “Certainly it’s not helpful,” Yousaf smiled, with what he probably hoped gave him a world-weary air. Instead the main impression was simply exhaustion.

Could he guarantee that the SNP wasn’t acting in a criminal way under his leadership? Given that he’s very much still counting up how many skeletons Nicola Sturgeon left in the cupboards of Bute House, this was a tricky one, but he did his best. “I certainly don’t believe it is,” he said. “At all.” It was an answer designed to reassure, which instead did the exact opposite.

After all, how would he know? The one thing we can say after watching him for the past fortnight is that Yousaf is not the kind of fellow that you’d want to involve in a criminal conspiracy, except possibly as the guy you ask to pop into headquarters one weekend to shred some documents. (“Don’t worry what they’re about, Humza, just stick them in the shredder. Yeah, you can sign them out under your own name.”) He may be the last person in Scotland who believes that Nicola Sturgeon quit because she wanted to spend more time as an auntie, rather than because she’d realised she would need driving lessons before she could help out with the getaway campervan.

At last, the part of Yousaf’s brain linked to political self-preservation managed to get control of his mouth. “I have to get to a group meeting,” he said. “But I’ll of course be around.” Drop in any time, lads, and ask more of your questions that he can’t answer. He’s here to help with your inquiries.

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