Motion of No Confidence

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 1 May 2024.

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-13005, in the name of Anas Sarwar, on a motion of no confidence. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons. I call on Anas Sarwar to speak to and move the motion.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour 2:55, 1 May 2024

I start by recognising the significant announcement that Humza Yousaf made this week—that he was resigning as First Minister. Although he and I have significant political disagreements, it is important to take a moment to thank him for his public service, which has included 12 years as a minister, and I wish him and his family the very best for the future.

However, for me and Scottish Labour, it has never just been about one person. Neither has it been just about the past 17 years of Scottish National Party failure. More significantly, it is about the present and the future. Now, more than ever, our country needs credible and effective leadership and stable and competent government to take on the twin crises that are facing our nation—an economic crisis and a national health service crisis. I have no confidence in the SNP’s ability to deliver that, which is why I have brought the motion to Parliament today.

The motion of no confidence in the SNP Government is based on two principal arguments. First, it is now clear that the SNP, as a political party, is so chaotic, divided and dysfunctional that it cannot deliver competent government and is failing Scots every day. I do not believe that that will change if the SNP purely changes the face at the top.

Let us look at the two candidates who are being suggested: Kate Forbes and John Swinney. There are already SNP ministers briefing journalists that, if Kate Forbes was to become leader, they would actively look to stop her from being able to form a Government, and that would mean even more chaos.

John Swinney is the man who has been at the heart of the SNP Government for the past 17 years and the heart of the SNP leadership for the past 40 years, the finance secretary who broke the public finances, and the worst education secretary in the history of the Scottish Parliament. That is hardly the competence or the change that our country needs.

Secondly, it is about the democratic deficit. It would be untenable for the SNP to impose yet another unelected First Minister on our country, especially in these circumstances. [ Interruption .]

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

Let me remind the chamber what Nicola Sturgeon said when Rishi Sunak replaced Liz Truss as Prime Minister. She said that we could not have a “revolving door” at Downing Street, that the office of Prime Minister was not the plaything of one political party and that it would be a democratic outrage if the leadership selection did not go to an election for the people to decide. If that is the principle that the SNP rightly applies to Westminster and the United Kingdom, why does it now hold Scotland and this Parliament to a lower standard?

I know that SNP members will point to Vaughan Gething as First Minister in Wales or other examples, but it is important to recognise the difference. Leaders stating that they will not complete full terms or leaving due to deeply personal circumstances and having a managed and orderly transition is very different from two leaders leaving in controversy and chaos.

For the second time in as many years, we have scandal, incompetence and political self-interest, with the SNP putting party before country and imposing its choice on the people of Scotland. It should be for the people to decide who leads our country; there should not be a backroom deal, a stage-managed coronation or a decision made by a small group of SNP members.

I think that the similarities between the UK Conservative Government and the SNP Scottish Government are now clear to see. The two political parties are both chaotic, divided, dysfunctional, unleadable, ungovernable, incompetent, distracted by internal wars, distant from the people’s priorities and unable to fix the mess of their own making. Both are looking to pitch community against community, both are entrenched in the politics of division and both are unable to meet the ambitions, hopes and aspirations of the people.

That is why our country is crying out for change. Yes, people want rid of this rotten Tory Government across the UK, but they also want to move on from this dysfunctional and incompetent SNP Government here in Scotland. That is why we need an election—so that the people can decide. It is getting clearer and clearer by the day that only Labour can deliver the change that Scotland needs. [ Interruption .]

I can hear that SNP members do not agree, but that is because they have stopped listening to the Scottish people: the people who are struggling in a cost of living crisis, who need a Government on their side, focused on jobs and lowering bills; the people who are languishing on NHS waiting lists, who need a Government that will renew and reform our NHS; the people who are stuck in temporary accommodation, with record levels of homelessness, who need a Government that is focused on building new homes; the people who worry about their children’s future, who need a Government that will raise education standards and bring opportunities to every community; and the people who can see the huge potential of Scotland being squandered by two incompetent Governments, who need a Government that believes in economic growth and is willing to work with business.

It is now clearer than it has ever been that it is time for the people of Scotland to have their say. It is time to elect a Government that is capable of delivering on the ambitions and hopes of every person in our great country. That is why I have no confidence in this SNP Government. I have no confidence that it can deliver the stability and competence that we need. That is why it is time for change.

I move,

That the Parliament has no confidence in the Scottish Government.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party 3:02, 1 May 2024

Presiding Officer, as this is my first opportunity to do so since my announcement on Monday, I begin by putting on record my thanks to you for the job that you have done in overseeing proceedings in the chamber throughout my tenure. That said, I am afraid that, with this First Minister shortly leaving Government, you might have one more raucous back bencher to manage.

I also thank Anas Sarwar for his kind remarks at the beginning of his speech. I thank everybody across the chamber, many of whom have sent me kind messages over the past 24 and 48 hours. I have to say that getting so many kind messages from the Opposition has unnerved me ever so slightly.

However, let me concentrate on Anas Sarwar’s remarks. He started his speech by saying that, for him, this is not personal, but he then launched an attack on John Swinney and Kate Forbes. Even by Anas Sarwar’s standards, that is the fastest Labour U-turn that I have ever seen.

Throughout his speech, Anas Sarwar spoke about members of this Parliament being “unelected”. Let us be absolutely clear: every single member of this Scottish Parliament—SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative, Green or Alba—is elected. Let us not cast any doubt on that. When it comes to attacking my colleagues John Swinney and Kate Forbes, I remind Anas Sarwar that, when they put themselves up for the vote—when they put themselves up for the people’s verdict in the constituencies that they stood in—they won, unlike Anas Sarwar. Let us not talk about unelected versus elected: everybody here is elected.

We know that the motion of no confidence today will be defeated. That gives me the opportunity to talk up our record and this Government’s considerable achievements, and to point out Labour’s lack of substance and its hypocrisy.

As I have found out only too well in the past few days, politics is definitely about the choices that we make. As for the Government, I am exceptionally proud of our choices. Where the Westminster consensus—Labour and the Tories—has chosen Brexit, Scotland chose to remain in the European Union.

Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer chose to retain the two-child limit and the rape clause. The SNP Government opposes those. Labour chooses to lift the cap on bankers’ bonuses but not the cap on child benefits. The SNP chooses differently.

Sir Keir Starmer—who, of course, Anas Sarwar answers to—chooses to commit to Tory spending and tax plans. Those plans mean that the wealthy will benefit from a tax cut, while the NHS and other public services are slashed to the bone.

We choose progressive taxation to increase investment in the NHS and public services. We choose to launch a 10-year just transition fund to support Scotland’s drive to net zero, when Labour chooses to ditch its £28 billion green energy pledge. Whereas Keir Starmer refused for months to call for an immediate ceasefire, even failing to condemn the collective punishment of the people of Gaza, I and the Government that I lead chose to be a voice for peace and humanity in the world.

Yes—those are just some of the choices that I and members in the seats behind me are so proud of. What about the results of those choices? Attainment in Scotland is at a record high and record numbers of students from deprived areas are entering our universities. This Government’s actions are lifting an estimated 100,000 children out of poverty this year. We continue to be the top destination for foreign investment outside London, and more people are coming to Scotland from the rest of the UK than are leaving—yet no one, but no one, in the Opposition thinks about pausing for a second to ask why.

Could it have something to do with the very choices that this SNP Government has made? Could it have something to do with choices such as the baby box, expanded childcare, free university education, free prescriptions; free nursing and personal care; free school meals, no bridge tolls, no hospital car-parking charges, free bus travel for under 22s, those with a disability and those over 60, the game-changing Scottish child payment and so much more? All those were delivered because of the choices that we have made—all because of our record. All those were done in the face of 14 years of Tory austerity, a Brexit that we did not vote for and a Westminster cost of living crisis that we did not create but as a result of which our people are suffering.

Yes, I am proud of the record of the Government that I have the honour of leading, at least for a little while longer.

As I reflect on my time as First Minister, as it comes to an end, I remind the chamber what I said when I first became First Minister. I promised that my door would always be open. I promised that I would listen to good ideas that came from across the parliamentary chamber. I have to say that, in that whole time—the 13 months for which I have been blessed and lucky to be First Minister—I have not heard a single positive idea from Anas Sarwar or the Labour Party. That is clear from this afternoon’s debate.

However, what I have heard is the deafening sound of principle after principle being thrown out of Anas Sarwar’s window: U-turning on the two-child cap, U-turning on devolution of employment law, U-turning on devolution of drug law and U-turning on his support for the WASPIWomen Against State Pension Inequality—women.

We on the SNP benches will leave Labour to justify all that, if it can. We will never do anything other than stand by our values—by Scotland’s values. The true vote of no-confidence that the people of Scotland really need and deserve is a vote of no confidence in this failing miserable union that is holding Scotland back and inflicting damage on the people and the economy of this country. The cosy Westminster alliance that is represented here today is terrified of such a vote. Why? It is because it knows what the result will be. So, I urge the chamber to reject the motion and to let us start focusing on the real priorities of the people of Scotland.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative 3:09, 1 May 2024

On a personal level, I wish Humza Yousaf well, as he prepares to leave office. It has been clear that I have disagreed with many of the policies that he has introduced in his time, but he has served our country as First Minister for a year and in Government for more than a decade.

It has also been very clear, during his time in office and particularly in his resignation statement on Monday, that family is important to him—it is integral to everything that he does. Although he will have reflections and, I am sure, regrets over the coming months and years, I know that he will take comfort in being able to spend more time with the family that he cherishes—one that is going to get bigger in a few months. We wish him well for that, too.

Scottish Conservatives will vote in favour of the motion today. We want the SNP Government to be removed and will look to use every opportunity to do that.

However, Labour has failed to build the majority that it needs in Parliament to achieve that. In contrast, my party’s vote of no confidence in Humza Yousaf was successful. Humza Yousaf has announced that he is resigning from the office of First Minister. It was the Scottish Conservatives who built a parliamentary majority to force him out.

That is what a strong Opposition can deliver, and that is just the first step. We want to get rid of the entire distracted and divided SNP Government, and the upcoming general election will be a chance to deliver another blow to it. In seats across Scotland, only the Scottish Conservatives can get rid of the SNP—just as we are getting rid of Humza Yousaf—and get the focus back on the priorities of people right across the country.

As we look ahead to the interim period and at where we are now, the would-be successors to Humza Yousaf are hardly rushing off the blocks to seize the poisoned chalice and lead the SNP. However, two names for who might take over are being mentioned. It is interesting to see that both are creeping a little further towards the front bench, and are ideally placed for us today, one behind the other, so I am sure that the cameras will get a great shot of them.

It looks as though Nicola Sturgeon’s health secretary will either be replaced by Nicola Sturgeon’s deputy or Nicola Sturgeon’s finance secretary. What does that say about the current Scottish Government? Each individual on the front bench today, handpicked by Humza Yousaf to run departments of the Government, has ruled themselves out. They do not want to do it. Never mind the Opposition having no confidence in the Government: it seems that none of the Government ministers has confidence in themselves.

The front runners, though, represent continuity. Kate Forbes ran Scotland’s economy when it lagged behind that of the rest of the United Kingdom. Her budgets put up taxes on Scottish workers and failed to pass on vital relief to Scottish businesses. Kate Forbes has said that she wants to hold an independence referendum within three months of a general election. She is an even more radical nationalist than Humza Yousaf or Nicola Sturgeon.

Then there is Honest John. If he is successful, Scotland faces—

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Mr Ross, we do not use nicknames in the chamber.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I am sorry—I thought it was about accuracy, because it would be “Not-so-honest John”, given some of the things that we have heard recently.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Mr Ross! [ Interruption .] Mr Ross, I ask you to apologise then continue. [ Interruption .]

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Mr Ross, apologise then continue. [ Interruption .]

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I am sorry, Mr Ross. You might not have been able to hear me. I would be grateful if you would apologise, then continue.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I will apologise. I am very sorry for any hurt caused.

If John Swinney is successful, we face the dreadful prospects of Nicola Sturgeon’s prodigy being replaced by Nicola Sturgeon’s right-hand man; of going from the man who ruined Scotland’s NHS to the man who ruined Scotland’s education system; and of going from one failed leader to a leader who has already failed.

Whichever nationalist wins, we already know that they will obsess about independence. Scotland will remain the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom for workers and businesses. One in seven Scots will remain on an NHS waiting list. Scottish education will continue to fall down the international rankings. Dualling of key roads including the A9 and the A96 will continue to be delayed. Police numbers will continue to drop and dangerous criminals will be let off with reduced sentences.

Whether we have a bitter battle or a cosy coronation to elect the next leader of the SNP, the SNP will continue campaigning for independence, and the Scottish people will continue to be failed by it.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 3:14, 1 May 2024

As I have already said to the First Minister personally, the events of the past week are a source of regret but certainly not of hostility or ill will at a personal level. Today, it is appropriate to acknowledge the human impact of political life. For Humza Yousaf, that impact was shown most clearly in a moment of immense dignity, when global political events were impacting directly on his family. He rightly gained huge respect for speaking out for and, in many cases, humanising the people of Gaza and humanising the victims of collective punishment in a way that no other national leader that I can think of was able to do. For that, and for a great deal more, Humza Yousaf is due respect and thanks—and he is due all of our thanks for his service to the country.

Others may have a very long list of grievances; they may have an implacable hostility to everything that the First Minister, the SNP or the Bute house agreement represents. For the Greens, the reason why we were unable to have confidence in the First Minister personally was his decision to needlessly end the progressive pro-independence majority Government. It is to his credit that he has taken personal responsibility and announced his resignation. I do not celebrate that in any way, but I believe that it was necessary.

In light of that decision, a vote of no confidence in the First Minister personally would have been performative and petty, and I welcome the fact that the motion has been withdrawn. However, a vote of no confidence in the Scottish Government as a whole betrays the true motives of others—chaos for the sake of chaos. Let us just consider what would happen if the motion were passed. We would have a month to seek another Government, an election around the time that voters across the country were heading off on their summer holidays and a new Government formed perhaps by August, leaving—[ Interruption .]

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

If members will permit another viewpoint to be heard, I say that that would leave little more than a year and a half until the legally required dissolution for the 2026 election.

In that time, what would happen to the legislation that is urgently needed? The Housing (Scotland) Bill, which contains measures on homelessness prevention and long-term rent controls, has just been introduced. We need a climate reset following the admission that Scotland is years behind where we should be on emissions cuts. One of the few areas of climate policy that have been praised in the past couple of years is the heat in buildings programme. Legislation on that will be needed soon if that is to be completed in time to accelerate the emission cuts from a previously neglected sector. All that and much more would be delayed. Then, after less than two years, we would have yet another Government with a different policy agenda altogether, potentially.

Fixed-term Parliaments are intended to give stability, and they have done so in contrast with more than a decade of chaos in Westminster politics. [ Interruption .] It should be clear to everyone that both Labour and the Conservatives do not want stable self-government for Scotland. The Greens do.

We already had the best option—a stable, progressive and pro-independence majority Government—and I regret that it has not been allowed to continue. The Government will no longer be a majority Government, but minority Governments can work. It has happened before and it can happen again. It is not beyond the ability of any political party in the chamber to work constructively in that context, if it chooses to do so.

However, a minority Government must reach out and bring together a majority in Parliament. For that to happen, it will need to remain a progressive Government. We need a reset on climate; an acceleration of emission cuts, not defeatism; a bold commitment to equality, not a shabby compromise with the nasty, divisive culture war mentality that we see elsewhere; and continued redistribution, which will be all the more important if an incoming UK Labour Government carries out its threat to stick to Tory fiscal rules, which will mean even more austerity. That progressive agenda is still capable of providing stable government for Scotland, instead of the chaos that the Labour motion seeks.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat 3:19, 1 May 2024

Politics can be ugly, and never more so than last week. However, I must pay great tribute to the First Minister: in a moment of great stress, he made a speech of great dignity and grace. It was a resignation speech that all of us, had we been in such a situation, would have wanted to make. That is a great tribute to him. Personally, I have always found him a very warm and generous individual, with a great smile and a sense of humour. I congratulate him and Nadia, who are soon to be parents again—if he thought that he was going to escape the sleepless nights, I think that they are about to come back with a vengeance.

It says something that the leadership of the Conservative Party is more stable than that of the SNP. I am old enough to remember when Nicola Sturgeon was First Minister. It is good to see her back in her place this afternoon. I do not know whether she wants to make an intervention in relation to a contribution that she made before, when she said:

“The governance of any country cannot simply be a revolving door that one party gets to pick time and time again who occupies the highest office in the land.”

I do not know whether she resiles from those remarks, but I am sure that the chamber would welcome her updated commentary on whether there should be an election now. I think that it is worth considering, which is why we will support the motion of no confidence. I note that Nicola Sturgeon is not rising to her feet. I suspect that she is, quite smartly, ducking that one.

My second reason for supporting the motion is that this Government is fond of saying that it is the best—the best in the UK. However, I do not think that “the best” is how you could judge the view of the single mother in my constituency who went without food in order to pay for her private dental bills because she could not get an NHS dentist; or that of the elderly man I met who was wincing with pain because his hip operation had been delayed once again; or that of the classroom assistant who was right in front of me with a broken wrist because she had had a violent incident with a pupil in a class; or that of the islanders who are desperately waiting for a reliable ferry service. They are not saying that it is the best, but this Government is riddled with complacency. It believes that, because we are marginally better on some occasions than the Conservative Government, we should somehow be grateful for the performance of this Government. That is the second reason why we need a renewed mandate for this Parliament and why we should have an election.

I am a big fan of Jamie Hepburn—many people have heard me talk about him before. He toils away on his own in private with his civil servants, crafting document after document that absolutely nobody reads; nevertheless, we have to give him credit for that. I want to release Jamie Hepburn from the endless torture of that responsibility. For that reason alone, I am sure that everybody would agree that we should have an election.

I never thought that I would ever say the words, “I agree with Ash Regan,” but her comment earlier that, “We chucked the Greens out the front door to sneak them in the back door,” is the fundamental problem with this Government. Either it heals the rift with the Green Party or it heals the rift with the public, and it cannot do both. That was Humza Yousaf’s view last week: that the Bute house agreement could not continue and was dragging down the SNP, and that that break was therefore needed. However, the SNP needs the majority, and that is why it needs the Greens. It is therefore not possible for the SNP to have a mandate in this Parliament, and so that needs to be renewed.

For all those reasons—for the revolving door, for the belief that it is the best, for the case of Jamie Hepburn, if nothing else—but also to heal the rift, we need to have an election.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour 3:23, 1 May 2024

I used to think that there really was nothing new in politics, but I have to say that the current period of chaotic government is exceptional, whether at Westminster or at Holyrood. We have had a ringside seat, observing the trauma experienced by the current UK Government. First, it was Boris Johnson, but partygate was his undoing. Then we had Liz Truss for all of 50 days, which resulted in interest rates rising and mortgages spiralling out of control. Now we have Rishi Sunak presiding over the country’s continuing decline. The last two were, of course, appointed by the Tory party and not elected by the country. The parallels with the current SNP Government are self-evident. With the SNP, we are about to have a third leader in as many years. The last two were elected by their party, not by our country.

The people of Scotland deserve to be heard, and I am not alone in that thinking. Here is what others had to say when Rishi Sunak was elected:

“It shouldn’t just be down to Tory MPs and Tory members to pick the next prime minister.”

That was Ian Blackford on 22 October 2022.

Then, we have this comment:

“He should call an early general election. He is the second person in a row to be appointed as Prime Minister by the Tories, not elected by the population. The idea that he can go two years before seeking or winning a democratic mandate, I think, is just unthinkable.”

That was Nicola Sturgeon on 24 October 2022. So, it is unthinkable. Is Nicola Sturgeon now wrong? Given that we face exactly the same situation in Scotland, the SNP should at least be consistent and agree that democracy demands a Holyrood election.

What has the SNP got to fear? Is it worried about the verdict of the people of Scotland—their verdict on one in six people being on an NHS waiting list and not one of the SNP’s targets to end long waits being met? There has been a 10 per cent increase in the number of drug deaths, and 10,000 people are waiting on social care assessments and support. The economy is weak, struggling to gain traction, and growth is stagnant. Funding for colleges and universities has been slashed, affecting the very future of our young people. The number of homelessness applications is increasing, with rough sleepers back on our streets, and there is a record high number of households, particularly those with children, in temporary accommodation. There is a housing emergency, but the SNP slashed the housing budget by £190 million. Of course, climate targets have been weakened and scrapped.

That is a record of shame. It is a record of failure. People are tired of two Governments that are failing them. They want change. They want a Government that is focused on their priorities—on the NHS, on the economy and on education. Instead, we will have another SNP contest for the next First Minister. There will be more division, more acrimony and more anonymous briefings from cabinet secretaries, but there will be zero focus on the things that matter to the people of Scotland. It is time for a Holyrood election. It is time for change.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The question is, that motion S6M-13005, in the name of Anas Sarwar, on a motion of no confidence, be agreed to. Are we agreed?



Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

There will be a division.

There will be a short suspension to allow members to access the digital voting system.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

We come to the vote on motion S6M-13005, in the name of Anas Sarwar. Members should cast their votes now.

The vote is closed.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My app did not work. I would have voted no.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Ms Gilruth, I can confirm that your vote was recorded.

Division number 1 Motion of No Confidence

Aye: 58 MSPs

No: 70 MSPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 3:30, 1 May 2024

The result of the division on motion S6M-13005, in the name of Anas Sarwar, is: For 58, Against 70, Abstentions 0.

Motion disagreed to.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

There will be a short pause before we move to the next item of business.