Humza Yousaf has taken a big gamble in sacking the Scottish Greens

25 April 2024, 20:57

Humza Yousaf has taken a big gamble in sacking the Scottish Greens, Gina Davidson writes.
Humza Yousaf has taken a big gamble in sacking the Scottish Greens, Gina Davidson writes. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

When Humza Yousaf woke up this morning he surely could have had no idea his day would end with his time as First Minister looking very close to being over - and with his future in the hands of rival Alba party MSP Ash Regan, whom he once described as "no great loss" to the SNP.

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His decision to end the Bute House Agreement with the Scottish Greens - a deal done by Nicola Sturgeon back in 2021 when she wanted to inject some stability into government - was apparently "war-gamed" according to sources close to the First Minister. But it's hard to believe they foresaw a Vote of No Confidence in Yousaf being tabled, and even if they did, that he would be on the brink of losing it.

That vote will come to Holyrood next week - potentially as early as Tuesday - and already the opposition parties are lining up to give Yousaf a bloody nose. That the Scottish Conservatives, Labour and LibDems would vote against him is no surprise, but by kicking the two Scottish Green co-leaders, Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, out of government, he has enraged them to such an extent that despite being on the same page on independence, the Greens will also now vote against him.

For some reason, even at his press conference where he announced the termination of their agreement, Yousaf thought that co-operation could continue on an informal basis. The Scottish Greens have other ideas. He has, it seems, under-estimated them.

The arithmetic in Holyrood is such that the SNP has 63 MSPs, and the opposition parties all together have 65. If Ash Regan, who was once an SNP government minister (she resigned over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill) and was also a rival to be SNP leader just last year, decides to vote against him, then he is toast.

He could cling on - a VONC is not binding. But without the support of the Parliament, and with the opposition parties in no mood to be generous towards him, how would any of his legislative agenda be passed? He would have no authority.

Regan is said to be drafting a letter to Yousaf outlining her terms for support. To accept any would be a very large and bitter pill for him to swallow - but then the old adage does say you should be nice to the people you meet on the way up as you will meet them on the way back down.

So how has this all happened?

It kicked off last week when the Scottish Government ditched its interim climate change targets, and on the same day the gender clinic in Glasgow said it was stopping the prescription of puberty blockers to young people; two issues close to the heart of Scottish Green members.

They wanted a vote on the Bute House Agreement, and Harvie and Slater agreed. That was due to happen in four weeks time, and it seemed they were convinced they could talk the members around into continuing to support being in government.

Even just two days ago Humza Yousaf was backing the agreement, saying how much he valued it, and how he hoped the Scottish Greens would vote for it to continue.

Forty-eight hours later - and after a long meeting with his Westminster leader Stephen Flynn - the deal was ditched. Yousaf said things had changed, the agreement had run its course, but gave no more clarity than that.

The Scottish Greens are very clear. They believe what they call "conservative, reactionary forces" in the SNP have forced his hand. They include in that, not just the usual suspects like Kate Forbes, but Stephen Flynn too. He will of course have to fight for his Aberdeen seat when a General Election is called and the contest between the SNP and the Conservatives in the north east, where so many jobs rely on the oil and gas industry, will be intense. Without being shackled to the Greens he will feel he no longer is fighting with one hand behind his back.

There will be many in the SNP who will be glad this deal is over, but there will also be many who believe that having a deal with another pro-independence party was all to the good for the ultimate aim.

But now it's over. A messy divorce is on the cards. Yousaf could be on the backbenches by this time next week and an SNP leadership election on the cards. We could see a new First Minister voted in by MSPs from the SNP group - or we could see no-one elected to that position, and if that remains the case for 28 days then a Holyrood election will be triggered. How ironic it would be if Scots went to the polls to elect a new Scottish Government before the long-awaited General Election is called.

Without a doubt Humza Yousaf has rolled the dice. It's the biggest gamble of his political life.


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