After Rutherglen Humza Yousaf Has “A Matter Of Days To Save His Leadership”
Some by-elections are memorable and important. Some are instantly forgettable, except by political anoraks.
Rutherglen and Hamilton West is a mix of the two. The campaign was dreary and forgettable, moving only just over a third of the electorate to the polls. However, the result may herald big changes in Scottish politics.
The reason is the scale of the Labour victory. The SNP who bizarrely had campaigned for the recall petition to force the by-election were thumped. It is by far the biggest swing against the SNP in a by-election in the entire history of the Party.
The turnout figure of a mere 37 per cent tells you everything. When the late Winnie Ewing triumphed in Hamilton way back in 1967 double that number of went to the polls in this area. Back then there was something worth voting for. Now the people think neither the SNP nor Labour are much cop. Last Thursday if there had been a space on the ballot paper for “none of the above” it would have won out of the park.
Humza Yousaf’s description of the result as “disappointing” simply doesn’t cut it. In reality the by-election is an electoral disaster which presents a fundamental risk to his leadership and tenure as First Minister. If he does not change course dramatically, and right now, then either he will have to go or he will drag the independence dream into the dust.
The First Minister has but days to change course and save his leadership. If he doesn’t he will go down in political history as “Humza the Brief”
One thing that Rutherglen and Hamilton certainly was not was a defeat for independence. How could it be? Independence hardly got a mention throughout the campaign. Indeed this is the third Hamilton by-election since Winnie Ewing’s earth shattering breakthrough but the first where independence was NOT at the heart of the SNP campaign.
Instead the hapless SNP candidate was left to campaign on the “cost of living” while her Party was planning to hike Council Tax rates of one on four households by over 20 per cent!! Simply ridiculous.
On Friday, the SNP’s day of atonement, as the full enormity of their humiliation sunk in, a new opinion poll put independence back in the lead over support for the Union. But what use is public backing for independence when the SNP are completely clueless about how to get there?
So what is to be done?
Firstly Humza Yousaf has to reunite his party and the national movement. He needs to beg solid nationalists like Fergus Ewing and Angus Brendan MacNeil to come back into the fold. He has to now treat seriously the call from the ALBA Party and others for a Scotland United coalition to fight Westminster and Holyrood elections on the independence ticket.
Secondly, the First Minister has to show the Green Party the door. Many of the problems besetting his administration are self-inflicted by the daft ideas of his own Green Ministers. It is fine to campaign alongside them for independence but a disaster to put them close to the levers of power. He needs to get his rebels in and Harvie and Slater out.
Thirdly, he needs a coherent strategy to get to independence. Nicola Sturgeon left him with a poisoned chalice by scuppering the referendum plan by her kamikaze adventure to the Supreme Court. However, Humza seems neither prepared to think up a credible new plan or accept some of the ideas from the party grassroots to move things forward. He has to get a new strategy into action and in double quick time.
The SNP is an independence party or it is nothing. Right now it is not an independence party and is therefore heading towards the sands.
Unless there is fundamental change Humza Yousaf’s leadership is over, almost before it has begun. He determined on a go-it-alone strategy for Rutherglen and has been abjectly humiliated.
The ALBA Party gave the SNP a free run in the by-election to defeat Labour’s unionism. Humza’s strategy has failed and failed spectacularly. We will not be giving the SNP a free run again unless there is a fundamental change in an independence direction.
Former First Minister
(This article was first published in the Sunday Mail on 08/10/2023)