Farewell to Scotland’s coalition of cranks

Humza Yousaf’s wretched SNP-Green coalition has shaken Scottish people’s faith in devolution.

Iain Macwhirter

Topics Politics UK

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It is almost exactly 25 years since veteran SNP politician Winnie Ewing declared on 12 May 1999: ‘The Scottish parliament, which adjourned on 25 March 1707, is hereby reconvened.’ There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Even the Scottish Conservative Party, which had opposed the Scotland Act 1998, became devolution cheerleaders after the Queen opened Holyrood to the strains of Robert Burns’s ‘A Man’s a Man for a’ That’. How far things have fallen since.

It is a measure of first minister Humza Yousaf’s misfortune that, after only a year in office, the Scottish National Party’s power-sharing deal with the Scottish Greens has collapsed. The coalition was formed in August 2021 under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership, after the SNP failed to get a majority in that year’s Holyrood elections. Yousaf pulled the plug on the deal this morning, meaning he will rule in a minority administration.

Except, things are much worse than that. Scots have recently been beginning to question not just Yousaf’s own competence, not just the policy objectives of the SNP, but also the future of devolution itself. A succession of policy failures and unworkable laws has made a nonsense of inaugural first minister Donald Dewar’s pledge in 1999 to deliver ‘Scottish solutions to Scottish problems’. More like reckless solutions to issues that Scots never thought were problems in the first place.

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, vetoed by the UK government after a trans rapist was placed in a women’s prison, stands out as possibly the most misconceived piece of legislation ever passed by the Scottish parliament. It was passed by the entire parliament in 2022, including by the Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs. It’s not just the SNP who are in the dock for demeaning devolution.

It was the same story with the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021, which came into force at the beginning of this month. It is now vying with the gender bill for the distinction of being the most unpopular law ever passed by Holyrood. The bill to outlaw ‘hate speech’, even in the family home, was of course Humza Yousaf’s baby. But Labour leader Anas Sarwar was one of the midwives.

After the act led to more than 7,000 hate complaints in the first week of it being enforced, Sarwar is now trying to disown it. As he did the gender law, which Labour also supported. Labour and the Lib Dems are, at the very least, accessories after the fact in undermining the reputation of Holyrood.

It is debatable whether the Hate Crime Act is still functional after JK Rowling ‘misgendered’ a rogue’s gallery of trans sex offenders and invited the police to arrest her. But the damage is done. Amusingly, Humza Yousaf received more accusations of hate crime in the early days than Rowling. That was for his speech claiming that there are too many white people in senior jobs in Scotland, a country that is 96 per cent white. But the police have let him off. Others, who aren’t celebrity novelists or senior politicians, might not be so lucky.

The Scottish opposition parties, Tories excluded, have been heavily implicated in the litany of policy failures in the past year. We had the Deposit Return Scheme for bottles and cans, axed after a revolt by small businesses; the aborted ban on inshore fishing, which caused a rebellion in highland communities; the collapse of the ‘heat in buildings’ plan to remove one million gas boilers. Last but not least has been the Scottish government’s equivocation over the Cass Review’s call for a curb on puberty blockers – drugs that had been given to ‘trans’ nine-year-olds in the past by the Sandyford gender clinic in Glasgow.

Perhaps the most resounding failure in Humza Yousaf’s annus horribilis has been the abandonment of the Scottish government’s ‘world leading’ climate-change targets. Last week, the Net Zero secretary, Màiri McAllan, announced almost casually that the SNP-led government was abandoning the 2030 deadline for cutting 75 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions compared with the baseline year of 1990. The target was ‘out of reach’, she said, stating the obvious. She even added that the Scottish government would be scrapping annual and interim climate targets altogether.

Astonishingly, the Scottish Green Party initially defended the move, albeit begrudgingly. Co-leader Patrick Harvie said that he was ‘angry and disappointed’, but that it is better to focus on ‘accelerating climate policies’ rather than on targets. This is of course like promising to go faster after you’ve broken the speedometer. How is the Scottish government going to measure its progress to Net Zero without targets which, when they were set, the Scottish Green Party insisted did not go far enough to meet the ‘climate emergency’? The Greens actually demanded an 80 per cent reduction by 2030.

McAllan says she is standing by her government’s ultimate target of reaching Net Zero in Scotland by 2045, five years ahead of the rest of the UK. But will anyone still believe that? Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to declare a ‘climate emergency’. Now it is the first to ditch it.

How can businesses and homeowners possibly plan for the future when the policies of the Scottish government are in a constant state of confusion and collapse? We know what most Scots really want. They want a reduction in hospital waiting times, not hundreds of thousands languishing on NHS lists. They want Scotland’s education system restored to its former high standards. They want an economy that delivers for people during the worst cost-of-living crisis since the 1970s.

What they never wanted was a coalition with a party, the Scottish Greens, that opposes economic growth on principle. Nor do Scottish voters want a raft of ‘woke’ laws that allow 16-year-olds to change legal sex by declaration alone. They don’t want a state-appointed ‘named person’ telling them how to raise their children. Scots enjoy robust debate. They loathe the suggestion that they might be locked up for ‘stirring up hatred’ for ‘ridiculing and insulting’ the idea that people with penises are women.

This is not what anyone thought the Scottish parliament was for when Scots voted by a margin of three to one in favour of devolution in the 1997 referendum. Were that referendum repeated they’d probably still vote Yes to devolution, but it would be with a very heavy heart. It’s not the parliament’s fault, after all, but the politicians who sit in it.

Iain Macwhirter is a political commentator and author of Disunited Kingdom: How Westminster Won A Referendum But Lost Scotland. Visit his Substack here.

Pictures by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK


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