Poor Humza Yousaf has been dealt a calamitous hand
Just another normal week in Scottish politics, with SNP MSPs meeting for the first time since the arrest of their former leader and instead of agreeing to suspend her – which some had called for – while the police investigation continues to dog the incipient leadership of Humza Yousaf, they voted to send her flowers.
This is not normal, folks. Supporting a close colleague at a time of strife is one thing. But we seem to have become so inured to the extraordinary goings-on in politics – not just in Scotland, and thank God we are not alone in this milieu of madness, but more of that later – that when the former leader of your country is arrested; when the party of government is under police investigation; when a £100k+ motorhome, apparently bought out of party funds, sits uninsured outside the house of the 92-year-old mother of the party’s now ex-chief executive, who also happens to be married to said former leader; when your treasurer has also been arrested and released without charge and is now too ill to attend parliament in person as an MSP; when the small matter of a £600,000 cache of donations, supposedly earmarked for a particular independence battle, is still, apparently, unaccounted for; when your leader unexpectedly resigns and claims it had nothing to do with any of the above; and when a criminal investigation is ongoing, and civil actions could likely follow, yeah, the completely normal response to strident proclamations of innocence is, naturally, to send an ‘in-sympathy’ bouquet in solidarity.
Perhaps it was meant as a kind gesture to show some compassion and a sense of unity. But that was misjudged. It only served to demonstrate disrespect from a party of government for an independent legal process which should take its course without political pressure – however subtly that is expressed. But it also showed a complete disregard for the reputational damage being wreaked on the party with every day that passes. And only highlighted the very abnormal circumstances we find the country to be in.
Obviously, justice means different things to different people in political La La Land, but just in case you were finding it all too hard to compute, the former justice secretary set the matter straight by mansplaining that being arrested is “just a way of making sure that the interview and the information-gathering by the police is put into a formal footing”.
Woah, thank goodness for that. For a minute there, we might have assumed Police Scotland arresting you ‘as a suspect’ was a hint at something serious going on. But no, everything is normal. Nothing to see here. As you were.
Poor Humza Yousaf. I know he wanted it, but he has been dealt a calamitous hand. However he attempts to control the narrative, he is overtaken by events. And despite his best intentions, his leadership is in danger of descending into farce. Some of his elected members have gone rogue in their support for someone who could yet be charged with a criminal offence. Some MPs and MSPs have teetered on the edge of contravening the law in their desire to display their unswerving devotion to someone they have judged innocent based on their assessment of character.
Legislators have appeared willing to abdicate all sense of jurisprudence, so in lockstep are they with unquestioning acolytes who show their support with an ‘I stand with Nicola’ hashtag. And even with the risk of contempt red flagged, supporters spew bile on social media as they denounce a justice system, deride the media, and ride roughshod over a police investigation, so desperate are they to give their own verdict on an inquiry of which they actually know nothing.
But this isn’t about a court of public opinion. It is about the law. And while it could absolutely be the case that no charges are ever laid and that those so far arrested, interviewed, and released with out charge pending further investigation are deemed guilt free, the converse is also true. The salient point is no one yet knows. So, while Yousaf, the man, may still want to express his friendship with a former close confidante, Yousaf, the leader, needs to hold his wheesht.
He needs to be more circumspect in his answers and he needs to stop filling space with fulsome answers about things that may yet come back to bite. And he needs to assert his authority on those he leads and encourage them to observe that same restraint.
Scotland has been hostage to a state of ominousness for months now. We are a country that has held itself tight, waiting for events to unfold. And while the SNP was already under fire for its record in government, that criticism has morphed into a sense of the absurd in recent weeks, with the party becoming a focus of ridicule.
At last week’s meeting of the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee – a group that doesn’t usually generate much mirth – members could not contain themselves on discovering that the Scottish Government has a working group exploring “the unique challenges created by motorhome and campervan users in Scotland”. This led to an extraordinarily comedic exchange, ending with Labour’s Foysol Choudhury saying he had never been in a campervan, only to have the SNP’s Fergus Ewing retort with the punchline, “that’s what they all say.”
Boom, boom! No one needed to expand on who or what was the butt of the joke.
But there can’t be many laughs in being Humza Yousaf right now as he careers from one crisis to another and most, not of his making. And in terms of the independence movement at large, it is its further misfortune that because of the SNP’s travails, it can’t fully capitalise on a crisis at Westminster; a scoundrel of a former prime minister who has been on a one-man exercise to denigrate politics and who is now exposed for the monstrosity we always thought him to be.
It’s a fatuous argument to bleat that our politics is better than your politics, when our politics is still to discover how this psychodrama ends.