At an event this week to mark the 25th anniversary of devolution, Nationalist MSP Kate Forbes declared: ‘People need to be inspired by leadership. And as much as I back the party and the current First Minister, we can only win elections if you have a big vision we can get behind.’

This was not, she ‘clarified’ later, an attack on her boss Humza Yousaf, who today celebrates the one-year anniversary of his election as First Minister. It sure as heck looked like it though. And boy, on the substance, she was right.

Scotland needs a big vision and firm leadership if we’re to combat the many challenges our country faces. The truth is we have lacked that vision under Mr Yousaf’s charge this past year.

Vast questions are stacking up – over economic growth, the future of the NHS and the state of our environment. But this has been a year marked less by big vision than about the little things. It has not met the demands of our time.

Take this week, in which Mr Yousaf has been out defending the hate crime Act that will come into force next Monday: another piece of legislation that, characteristically for the Scottish Government, looks set to create more problems for police and the public than those which it seeks to solve.

Occasionally well-meaning, often actively damaging, but typically irrelevant to the key issues we face, it’s a useful emblem of how the past year has gone under the First Minister’s watch.

Scotland needs big vision and firm leadership – something the country has lacked under Humza Yousaf, argues Eddie Barnes

Scotland needs big vision and firm leadership – something the country has lacked under Humza Yousaf, argues Eddie Barnes

Readers will have their own priorities in Scottish politics. These are some of mine: the complete unsustainability of our health and social care system; the consequences of a rapidly ageing society; the growing tax gap between Scotland and the UK; the knock-on consequences for economic growth and the impact this has on incomes, particularly among the poorest families; the growth in long-term sickness and the cost this puts on Scotland’s (equally unsustainable) benefits system; the cost of the ‘green transition’; the decline of education standards towards mediocrity; and the centralisation of power in Edinburgh.


I’m certain Mr Yousaf is as conscious of these big issues as any frontline politician, and I’m sure he has a ‘line to take’ on all of them.

I struggle, however, to think of many, if any, hard choices he has made in the past year that demonstrate he wants to tackle them in a serious manner.

The urgency of these issues can surely not be denied – and nor can the Scottish Government’s sloth in response. Only yesterday, a poll of business leaders by the Institute of Directors revealed that the SNP’s tax regime was now a major concern for eight out of ten of them. Nearly 40 per cent noted that staff recruitment was likely to be impacted.

The NHS is on its knees, with reform urgently required. Yet even a ‘national conversation’, promised in the Scottish Government’s Budget statement last December, has found the long grass. We appear to be led by a government that can’t even talk about the problems we’re facing on health and social care, never mind fix them.

On education, where Nicola Sturgeon once vowed to be ‘judged’ on whether she improved standards for low-income students, Mr Yousaf has left the matter alone.

On the environment, the independent Climate Change Committee last week declared that the SNP’s ‘world-leading’ targets to cut emissions by 2030 were now ‘impossible’ to meet.

If ever there is a totem of the SNP’s style of government here it was: promise big, deliver little, blame Westminster.

Mr Yousaf has had plenty to say over the past year, of course; he is rarely off our screens.


But instead of using his office to demonstrate leadership in the big areas he has responsibility for – the economy, education, health, the environment – he too often lapses into the role of commentator.

Indeed, you might say he’s become Scotland’s First Commentator. Some of this commentary has been admirable I should add.

For example, I respect the way Mr Yousaf has sought to talk about the problem of misogyny among young men in the UK. I just question whether commentary adds up to leadership on the big things that really matter.

Meanwhile, creating the appearance of leadership has taken precedence over much in the way of actual substance. I think of Mr Yousaf’s visit to Cop28 in Egypt last November, where he got himself embroiled in a diplomatic tangle after organising a ‘brush past’ with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The affair was characteristically Yousafian: it prompted a good old-fashioned political row with the UK Government, and it got Mr Yousaf a nice photograph to add to his collection.

Yet four months after all that hassle, all the efforts from Scottish civil servants to ensure Mr Yousaf had two or three minutes of chit-chat with a world leader, the whole business has now been entirely forgotten.

The trip amounted to nothing. What a complete waste of everyone’s time.

Perhaps Unionists like me who worry about the SNP’s dominance of the political scene should be grateful for this. For on the big issue – the promotion of independence – Mr Yousaf’s contribution has been to let the air out of the balloon.

Over the past 12 months, a lonely group of civil servants have been forced to write a series of turgid papers on independence. These have gone straight to landfill.

And rather than set out a fresh plan, Mr Yousaf has adopted the tried and trusted Sturgeon method, in which glaring holes in the independence case are dealt with by dismissing anyone who points at them.

Arguments on the case for independence now receive half-hearted applause from half-filled halls.

As Ms Forbes says, the ‘big vision’ is palpably missing. Hurrah say all of us.

But it’s no cause for celebration. Not when the long-term challenges facing Scotland continue to be ignored.

Mr Yousaf’s strengths will probably come to the fore over the coming months as we turn to the election. I think he’ll prove a better campaigner than his opponents think.


But great political leadership requires more. It requires people who are prepared to grab difficult issues and make unpopular decisions for the common good.

It requires leaders who find a way to take the public with them, explaining why short-term pain is necessary for long-term gain.

It demands people who wake up every day thinking how to create more jobs, to ensure that, when their short time in office expires, there will be something of their work that lingers.

If SNP gossip is to be believed, Mr Yousaf’s short time in office may be shorter than he thinks – perhaps only as far as this autumn’s expected election.

My unwanted advice to the First Minister as he embarks on his second, and potentially final, year in office would be to think of the big things he wants to achieve before he joins the long list of unremembered ex-leaders. Sad to say, I’m not holding my breath.

Post source: Daily mail

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