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by Margaret Taylor
12 January 2024
Humza Yousaf: We'll work constructively with Prime Minister Keir Starmer

First Minister Humza Yousaf launched his party's general election campaign in Glasgow today | Alamy

Humza Yousaf: We'll work constructively with Prime Minister Keir Starmer

First Minister Humza Yousaf has said he would be willing to work “constructively” with Keir Starmer “to introduce measures for a fairer country” should the Labour leader form the next government.

Speaking at the campaign launch in Glasgow’s Oran Mor on Friday, the SNP leader noted that it is “very clear now that Keir Starmer is going to be the next prime minister” and that his “offer” to the Labour leader is that he will work with him “where we can”.

Addressing activists and parliamentary candidates under a ceiling painted by the late artist and independence supporter Alasdair Gray, the first minister heaped opprobrium on the Conservative government, saying it had imposed Brexit, austerity, a “disastrous mini-Budget”, “constant attacks on social security” and a “hostile environment on immigration” on the people of Scotland.

Yousaf also attacked Starmer, saying that when people are “looking for leadership Labour under Keir Starmer has been posted missing”, but outlined the areas where he believes a clutch of SNP MPs could work constructively to influence a Labour government.

“We’ll do everything we can to prevent any further Labour backsliding on green investment,” he said.

“We’ll fight to protect the NHS from creeping privatisation at Westminster. We’ll work with Labour if they want to end the two-child cap, to lift children out of poverty.

“And, if they’re open to it, we’ll share our experience of how to introduce a UK-wide equivalent of the Scottish Child Payment.

“Although it’s not for us to write the manifestos of others, I believe that every party standing in this election should make a commitment to introducing a child payment, as we have done.

“This has been transformational in our efforts to tackle the scourge of child poverty, and we stand ready to share our experiences with anyone else looking to introduce such a measure.”

It comes after the Holyrood administration this week took a more conciliatory approach to working with the Tories at Westminster than it has in the past, offering to work collaboratively on a UK-wide approach to exonerating those wrongly convicted as part of the Post Office Horizon scandal.

In a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Yousaf wrote that “Scottish ministers are keen to work with the UK Government to deal with the impact on sub-postmasters convicted in Scotland, ensuring that a UK-wide approach is taken to exonerate those wrongfully convicted in Scottish courts”.

The UK Government announced fast-track legislation to quash convictions in England and Wales on Wednesday. While it would not normally apply to Scotland, Yousaf said he would consider a legislation consent motion to ensure the up to 100 Scottish people wrongfully prosecuted would also be covered by the bill. 

In his campaign speech, Yousaf said that “Rishi Sunak is finished as PM” and that “the Tories are done”, adding that his ambition for the election is to oust the Tories from all six of the seats they won last time round.

“This year we can rid ourselves of a Tory government that Scotland did not vote for,” he said.

“The SNP is by far the best-placed party to do that. In every Tory-held seat north of the border, we are the party in second place.

“And today I am setting an ambition for the SNP, to not only win the general election but to wipe the Tories from Scotland’s electoral map by winning all six of those Tory seats.”

Currently the Conservatives have seven Scottish MPs, including Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross and Scottish secretary Alister Jack, although the East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow constituency was originally won by the SNP at the last election.

The seat changed to the Tories last October when sitting MP Lisa Cameron crossed the house in response to what she called “toxic and bullying” behaviour on the part of her then colleagues in the SNP – something senior party representatives have refuted.

It came after local MSP Collette Stevenson and former Holyrood deputy presiding officer Linda Fabiani, who previously held Stevenson’s seat, backed Cameron's rival Grant Costello to become the party’s general election candidate. Costello ultimately won the nomination and will represent the SNP in the revamped East Kilbride and Strathaven constituency. 

In terms of policy, Yousaf said that “given Westminster’s economic failure, we have a duty to set out the case for a better future for Scotland”, adding that independence was his answer.

“This election represents an important moment for Scotland’s independence movement,” he said.

“Keir Starmer will use every vote for Labour in Scotland as a vote against independence. He will argue that every vote for Labour is a vote of confidence in Westminster control.

“So if you believe decisions about Scotland should be taken in Scotland – if you believe in independence – I ask you to vote SNP.”

Speaking after the event, former SNP leader and first minister Alex Salmond, who now leads the pro-independence Alba Party, accused Yousaf of “courting disaster” and presenting a “muddled message on independence”.

Noting that Yousaf had rejected his offer to jointly fight the election on a “Scotland United ticket”, Salmond said Yousaf now “risks handing the election to the deeply inadequate ‘branch office’ Labour Party”.

“Independence supporters deserve so much better for 2024 than this headlong charge of the light-weight brigade into the valley of electoral defeat,” he said.

Scottish LibDem MSP Willie Rennie said the SNP should be focusing on issues such as fixing problems in the NHS as part of its campaign rather than continuing to talk about independence.

“With public services in a mess and his party discipline breaking down, the only thing Humza Yousaf has left is to retreat back into his comfort zone and start talking about breaking up the UK,” he said.

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: "It's clear that Humza Yousaf intends to spend from now until polling day sticking his fingers in his ears and repeating 'independence, independence, independence' in a desperate bid to shore up his feuding, scandal-ridden party's dwindling base.

"That shows the SNP's utter contempt for the Scottish public, who want and expect politicians to focus on what matters to them – including economic growth and public services."

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: "Today's speech from Humza Yousaf was nothing more than another desperate attempt to reset the SNP's failing political strategy.

"From talking down the influence that Scottish voters have to desperately moving the electoral goal posts, it is clear that the SNP is in trouble."

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