Humza Yousaf is everything that’s wrong with modern politics

Vain, haughty and brazenly disdainful of working people – we now know what wokeness in power looks like.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Identity Politics Politics UK

Want to read spiked ad-free? Become a spiked supporter.

For me, the most notable thing about the Scottish first minister Humza Yousaf is his haughtiness. Rarely has a man’s arrogance been so out of proportion to his intellect. He has honed to perfection the Diane Abbott style of addressing both the media and the masses as if they were special-needs children. Remember the time he told a striking nurse to stop being patronising? All she’d said is that politicians like him are not listening to nurses’ concerns. ‘Let’s not patronise each other’, he snapped. A man with great power telling an underpaid health worker to check her patronising tone is, ironically, patronising beyond comprehension.

If this were just a personality trait, I could live with it. (Kind of.) If his ‘snide, arrogant and patronising’ demeanour – as one Scottish observer described it – was just the way he is, I’d be a tad more forgiving. We can all be wankers at times. But with Yousaf, something else is at play. His condescending style is directly reflective of his condescending politics. His conceited bemusement at journalists’ questions and pompous disdain for the Scottish throng are less personality tics than core tenets of his identitarian belief system. It is not an accident that a man beholden to the ideology of woke should be such a neo-aristocratic arse.

As Yousaf heads for a no-confidence vote – following his dissolving of the coalition between his Scottish National Party and the Greens – it’s worth reflecting on what his time in office has told us about politics in the 21st century. It is unlikely his first ministership will bother the history books much – though his recent batty claim that men experience misogyny might be included in a future tome on Stupid Shit Politicians Say. And yet there is something noteworthy about his rule. It’s shown us what wokeness in government looks like. It has given us a grisly glimpse of what will become of public life once the grievance-mongers of identitarianism seize the reins of power.

Fundamentally, Yousaf’s is a government not for the people, but against them. It’s an administration devoted less to unleashing Scotland’s potential than to taming its bigotries. It’s concerned less with meeting Scots’ needs than with policing their feelings. This is why his speech on the unbearable whiteness of Scottish politics was so important. You remember it. It’s gone viral about a hundred times since he first made it in the Scottish parliament during the BLM madness of June 2020. He reeled off various ruling-class positions – lord advocate, solicitor general, Police Scotland chief constable – and barked the word ‘white’ after each one. A country where 96 per cent of people are white has mostly white rulers? I’m shocked.

Many, including Elon Musk, branded Yousaf ‘racist’ over this speech. But the larger issue, surely, is the question of what becomes of politics when political leaders fear the countries they lead. In that speech, Yousaf damned Scotland as suffering from ‘structural racism’. Here was a justice secretary, and future first minister, essentially saying Scotland has a pox on it. It’s corrupted by race hate. He was positioning himself against the nation – ‘in 99 per cent of [the] meetings I go to, I am the only non-white person in the room’, he moaned. It’s clear his burning urge was less to serve Scotland than to save it; less to give Scots what they want than to provide them with the racial-awareness training they supposedly need.

Here we can see how identity politics utterly upends the relationship between rulers and the ruled. It’s no longer us putting pressure on them to improve society, but them putting pressure on us to improve ourselves. Many of us find ourselves wondering what will happen to the West when the woe-is-us bourgeois youths of the 21st-century campus enter politics, bringing with them their hyper-fragility, blacklisting lunacy and BS about ‘structural racism’. Wonder no more. Yousaf’s Scotland is what will happen. This first minister with his innate wariness of his fellow citizens and his seemingly boundless capacity for self-pity is woke made flesh.

There was another incident that exposed the extent to which Yousaf was a minister not for Scotland but against it. Remember, in 2021, when he whipped up a public storm over a nursery that turned down an application for his daughter to attend? He and his wife cried Islamophobia. They issued a legal writ. They went to the press. This nursery accepts kids with ‘white Scottish-sounding names’ but not kids like ours, they said. Rather quietly, they dropped their legal case in early 2023. The nursery owner, herself of South Asian origin, was furious. The Yousafs could have ‘pick[ed] up the phone to quickly resolve what was a simple misunderstanding’, she said. But instead they ‘mounted a vicious and cynical campaign against us in the national media. What sort of people do that?’

The ‘sort of people’ who do that are people who see hate everywhere – who think even nurseries are stacked with ‘phobes’. In my view, it was beyond irresponsible for Yousaf to turn a personal run-in and possible misunderstanding with a nursery into a fat media spectacle about ‘Islamophobia’. A serious politician concerned with the social health of the nation would not so wilfully imply that even kindergartens have been invaded by the scourge of ‘structural racism’. A serious politician would know that undermining parents’ confidence in educational institutions is a wholly reckless thing to do. In Yousaf’s case, however, it seems his oppression complex, his voracious urge to play the victim, overrode all else, including the standing of Scotland’s nurseries. Society be damned, I have pain to advertise!

Yousaf’s view of Scotland as structurally racist, as too dominated by whites, inevitably shaped his policies. His big idea as justice minister was the spectacularly illiberal Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act of 2021. Under this Orwellian law, anyone found guilty of ‘stirring up hatred’ against people with certain protected characteristics, including trans people, could potentially be banged up for seven years. Scots might even see the criminalisation of ‘hate speech’ in the home. As one news outlet summed up this hate law, for Yousaf and others it is clear there should be ‘no exemption for hateful speech… just because it [occurred] in a private dwelling’.

Legal interference in private conversation is the entire definition of tyranny. It’s the modern equivalent of the telescreen from Nineteen Eighty-Four that spies on people in their homes to ensure they aren’t thinking bad things. Yet Yousaf’s law is entirely in keeping with his grievance politics, with his haughty conviction that Scotland is a cesspit of structural hate. It’s his dread of society that informs his taste for tyranny. It’s a short step indeed from viewing your world as inherently racist to insisting we need new laws to correct it. The irony: a leader’s oppression complex gives rise to real oppression, in this case of any utterance that ‘alarms or distresses’ the ruling class.

There’s another socially reckless element to identity politics: validation. That is, the belief that the validation of an individual’s identity is so existentially important that it can overrule all else, including social stability. Here, too, Yousaf’s administration has been instructive. He went along with his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon’s cult-like conviction that ‘transwomen are women’, including ‘transwomen’ who rape actual women. The SNP’s placing of rapistsmen – in women’s prisons is a searing indictment of its rule, a sickening example of what can happen when you value the hallucinatory identities of disturbed individuals more than the safety and dignity of the mass of society. It’s undemocracy packaged as ‘progressive’.

Yousaf took things a step further when he said ‘transwomen’ – men! – suffer misogyny. This was one of the starkest instances yet of the state validating men’s identities to the detriment of women’s security. The idea that men in dresses experience ‘misogyny’ utterly denudes misogyny of meaning. It dilutes the social experiences of women – real women. Worse, as Joan Smith pointed out, it raises the possibility of a man accusing a woman of being misogynistic against him. A bloke in a bad wig could accuse a gender-critical feminist of being ‘sexist’ by saying to him, ‘You aren’t female’. And thus does Yousaf’s sacralisation of validation tear at the fabric of society.

Yousaf’s rule is proof that identity politics is the implacable foe of class politics. His is a regime sniffy about working people’s desires for a better life. So in his infamous ‘white’ speech, he included trade-union leaders. Thatcher denounced them as demagogues, Yousaf denounces them as white. His run-in with that nurse concerned about her pay suggests he even sees working women as an oppressive force, visiting their ‘patronising’ views on our poor, put-upon government minister. Then there was Police Scotland’s recent demonisation of ‘young working-class men’ as the worst of the hate-mongers. ‘We know’ – do we? – ‘that young men aged 18-30 are most likely to commit hate crime, particularly those from socially excluded communities’, the cops said. And so a crusade against hate ends up green-lighting hate – against the ‘Neds’ (chavs) whose alleged dimwittery and boorishness supposedly poses a threat to Scottish decency.

Yousaf’s rule provides the clearest evidence that identitarianism is hostile to a staggering degree to the ideals and interests of working people. Young working-class lads, womankind, parents and Scots in general all find themselves thrown under the juggernaut of Yousaf’s vain delusion that he’s a victim even as he assumes responsibility for the fate of an entire nation. That’s the final, chilling lesson of Scotland’s experiment in identitarian lunacy under Humza Yousaf’s boot – that even the ruling class now fancies itself as a victim of the masses. There is no telling what tyranny might yet flow from such a self-serving, narcissistic, fact-lite and wicked delusion.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Identity Politics Politics UK


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today