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18 April 2024

Humza Yousaf’s struggle for a narrative continues

The SNP’s cancellation of its climate pledges shows a party that no longer knows why it’s in government.

By Freddie Hayward

Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy is quickly falling apart. Her arrest (without charge) during the investigation into the SNP’s finances tarnished her claim to be a beacon for probity in public office. Her flagship self-ID policy for transgender people collapsed following a UK government veto. Her gaffe-ridden successor Humza Yousaf, seen as the continuity candidate, has failed to revive the party’s ailing fortunes in the polls.

As the New Statesman’s Scotland editor, Chris Deerin, writes in his excellent column: “All is not well. All is very far from well. The First Minister [Yousaf] has taken to the highest office like a hedgehog to a rush-hour motorway. Without a clear plan to circumvent the traffic, he has been knocked from pillar to post. It is only a matter of time until he becomes political roadkill.”

I know these concerns are shared by some in the SNP’s Westminster grouping. One SNP MP mused to me recently that a shoddy performance at the general election – securing fewer seats than Labour would count as shoddy – could trigger a move against Yousaf’s leadership. The First Minister lacks the stature that would justify his recent requests to be briefed on the Middle East, when that is a matter for the UK government. He gets more coverage for scrapping with JK Rowling and defending hate crime laws that criminalise what someone says in the privacy of their home than the achievements of the Scottish government. That is a problem politically.

And now the BBC is reporting that the Scottish government will ditch its target to cut carbon emissions by 75 per cent by 2030. The target was ambitious and, as the SNP’s coalition partners the Greens said at the time, prioritises a target over the policies to achieve it. Ministers have missed eight of the last 12 annual carbon targets, according to the Climate Change Committee (CCC). In March, the CCC said that the 2030 target was unattainable.

Nonetheless, it still constitutes a U-turn for a government that is struggling to muster a political narrative. Sturgeon wanted Scotland to be seen as a climate leader, a bulwark of progressive internationalism that took responsibility for its carbon emissions. She declared a climate emergency at the 2021 Cop26 summit in Glasgow. She boasted that the SNP had the “most stretching targets in the world”. If this narrative is now being jettisoned, Yousaf will need to hastily construct a new one.

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[See also: The fight to save a fractured union]

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