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Humza Yousaf’s race obsession is an affront to democracy

Scotland’s clownish first minister thinks his identity should place him beyond criticism.

Malcolm Clark

Topics Free Speech Politics UK

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It is tempting to think of Scottish first minister Humza Yousaf as merely a clownish character. Remember when, last year, he asked a group of female Ukrainian refugees, ‘Where are all the men?’, seemingly forgetting about the war they would have been fighting in. And who can forget when, in 2021, he fell off a scooter while speeding down the halls of Holyrood? He was health minister at the time.

Comical though he is, these gaffes tend to obscure a more sinister side to the first minister – namely, his obsession with a racial identity politics. Recently, this was brought back to the fore because of his own Hate Crime Act.

The Public Order and Hate Crime (Scotland) Act 2021 – which Yousaf championed as justice minister – has been a complete disaster. Since the law came into effect earlier this month, so many hate crimes have been reported – over 8,000 so far – that they are on course to outnumber all other recorded crimes. Officers have pleaded that they can’t cope with the volume of complaints, not least because the law is so full of contradictions that politicians and cops still can’t seem to agree on what is actually covered by it. Most embarrassing of all, the police have been inundated with reports of one alleged ‘hate crime’ in particular – a speech that Yousaf himself made back in 2020, in which he complained that Scotland was too white. Within the first two days of the Hate Crime Act coming into force, up to 4,000 people reported it to the police, claiming that it was racist against white people.

In his infamous Holyrood speech, Yousaf listed numerous senior positions in various Scottish institutions and pointed out after each one that – horror of horrors – the post was held by a white person. ‘The lord president… white. The lord justice clerk… white. Every High Court judge… white’, and so on. At the time, the speech was widely mocked. For one thing, 96 per cent of Scots are white, so it is hardly unusual that the majority of the Scottish elite would be white, too. Tellingly, Yousaf failed to note that, as the then justice secretary, he actually outranked many of the senior figures in the justice system that he decried as ‘white’.

The good news for Yousaf is that the police have announced they will not be treating his speech as a hate crime, in part because the act hadn’t yet come into force when he made his speech. Still, the fact that police even had to consider whether the first minister had committed a crime shows just how broad and open to abuse the Hate Crime Act is. Yet instead of acknowledging this problem, Yousaf has since doubled down. Speaking to BBC Scotland earlier this month, Yousaf claimed that the huge volume of complaints against him had ‘come from the far right’.

This response is all too typical. The first minister is terrible at taking criticism. Instead of admitting fault, he blindly accuses his critics of being far right, racist or Islamophobic.

Indeed, he seems to see racism everywhere, even when there blatantly is none. Back in 2021, he took legal action against a nursery for supposed racial discrimination when it did not admit his daughter. He also railed against the nursery on social media. As it turned out, Little Scholars in Broughty Ferry is owned and run by a woman of South Asian origin, so Yousaf’s accusations didn’t hold much water. The case was eventually dropped last year, but the affair left a bad taste. Yousaf had clearly used his bully pulpit to slander a blameless nursery when he couldn’t get his own way.

You can’t help but get the sense that Yousaf thinks the usual rules don’t apply to him. You could also see this in the dealings that he and his wife, Nadia El-Nakla, have had with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In November last year, El-Nakla travelled to Istanbul to take part in a conference about the war in Gaza. Fronted by Erdoğan’s wife, the event was billed as an opportunity for female leaders and first ladies to take a stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict. The Scottish government’s own civil service warned against the trip. Not least because, under devolution, the Scottish government has no right to conduct its own foreign policy separately from the UK. There is also no constitutional position of ‘first lady’ in Scotland and, therefore, no parliamentary scrutiny of El-Nakla’s activities. Despite this, she attended the event and, against official British policy, called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Shortly after this, during the COP28 conference in Dubai, Yousaf himself met with Erdoğan. In doing so, he breached government rules by not having a UK official present at their meeting. Minutes later revealed that Yousaf discussed not only the war itself, but also the plight of his wife’s parents, who were then trapped in the Gaza Strip.

It’s hard not to conclude that Yousaf feels he can bend the rules because of his identity. Anyone who dares to criticise him should expect to be called Islamophobic or racist. Last year, he faced flak for spending taxpayers’ money on aid to Gaza – something that some suspected was an attempt to specifically help his in-laws get out of harm’s way. Yousaf responded by accusing the Telegraph, which broke the story, of conducting a smear campaign of right-wing and Islamophobic conspiracy theories against him.

Perhaps it is also far right and Islamophobic to mention the blatant hypocrisy in Yousaf’s public displays of his religion. Last month, he made a great show of inviting a sheikh to perform an Islamic call to prayer at Bute House, the first minister’s official residence. Meanwhile, he previously criticised Kate Forbes, his opponent in last year’s SNP leadership race, for being a devout Christian. Yousaf and his supporters kicked up a fuss after Forbes said that she would have voted against same-sex marriage in 2014, had she been an MSP at the time. While Yousaf said he supported the bill, he was suspiciously absent during the actual vote.

Humza Yousaf seems to believe that his identity places him beyond criticism. He hysterically cries ‘racist!’ or ‘Islamophobe!’ at anyone who says a bad word about him. But the truth is that the good people of Scotland don’t dislike Yousaf on account of his race or his religion – they dislike him because he’s a dreadful first minister. He can’t shirk accountability forever.

Malcolm Clark is a TV producer. Visit his substack, The Secret Gender Files, here.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Free Speech Politics UK

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