Scottish National Party Leadership

First Minister’s Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at on 2 May 2024.

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Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

A week ago, I lodged the Scottish Conservative vote of no confidence motion that forced Humza Yousaf to resign in disgrace. This could very well be his final First Minister’s question time as First Minister.

Humza Yousaf’s replacement must focus on what really matters to Scotland. The SNP has to forget about independence and prioritise growing our economy, creating jobs and improving public services. John Swinney did the opposite of all those things in government, and his leadership campaign slogan, which was unveiled this morning, is “Uniting for independence”. That is all that he offers. [ Applause .]

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Members, let us hear Mr Ross.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I am very grateful for that party election broadcast, which we will be using in the days, weeks and months to come, because all that Mr Swinney offers is more of the same nationalist obsession that has damaged Scotland for a decade, and SNP members are laughing and applauding that. He is fixated on independence, not on the things that really matter. Does uniting for independence not just mean more division for Scotland?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

No, it does not. Douglas Ross has every right and prerogative to gloat about the position that I am in; I made my statement on Monday. The only exception that I would take to what Douglas Ross said is that I do not feel disgraced at all. I am very proud of the fact that I became the first person of colour to be First Minister, the very first Muslim leader of a western nation and the youngest First Minister to serve in 25 years of devolution.

Most of all, I am proud to have served this Government and my country on the front bench for 12 years. Did I get everything right? Absolutely not—that is very evident and clear. Can I be proud of the Government’s record? Absolutely.

Let me talk about the Government’s record. In his next few questions, Douglas Ross will do his best to talk about personalities as opposed to policies. Why would he want to do that? When it comes to our policies, the SNP is the party of free university education, the party that abolished prescription charges, the party of free personal and nursing care, the party of free bus travel for those who are under 22 or over 60 and those with a disability, the party of free school meals, the party of the baby box and the party of free childcare.

What about the Conservatives? They are the party of Windrush, the party of bankers’ bonuses, the party of austerity, the party of Brexit, the party of the two-child limit, the party of Boris Johnson, the party of Liz Truss and the party of the cost of living crisis. With such an abysmal record, no wonder the leader of the nasty party wants to talk about personalities, not policies.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

My criticism of the Government was mainly brought on by John Swinney’s comments today, as he said that everything is so bad that he has to run for the leadership. Just when John Swinney thought that he was out, the SNP pulled him back in, because there is literally nobody else. The SNP’s man for the future is its failed leader from the past. It is going from one continuity candidate to another.

John Swinney was Nicola Sturgeon’s human shield. He masterminded the deal with the extremist Greens. For 16 out of the 17 years of SNP Government, John Swinney sat round the Cabinet table. His fingerprints are all over the Government’s most toxic policies. How will going back to the future get the SNP out of the mess that it is in?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Has Douglas Ross never stopped to reflect on the fact that, for all that he has said about John Swinney, John Swinney and my colleague Kate Forbes are both more popular than Douglas Ross?

Douglas Ross seems absolutely determined to talk about personality. Let me remind him about the personalities that he associates himself with. Douglas Ross served in Boris Johnson’s Government. He called Boris Johnson an honest man. That would be the Boris Johnson who was not only the architect of a damaging hard Brexit but who allegedly said to Covid victims, “Let the bodies pile up high.”

Douglas Ross then went on to not only support Liz Truss to the hilt—[ Interruption .]

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

He demanded that we copy Liz Truss’s disastrous tax plans. Of course, those were the tax plans that utterly annihilated the economy, and that is the Liz Truss who is now engaging in hard-right conspiracies about the deep state.

You can judge a man by the company that he keeps. Douglas Ross’s company is Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party of Liz Truss, Suella Braverman and Priti Patel, and, formerly, of Lee Anderson, Mark Menzies, Peter Bone, Chris Pincher, Andrew Bridgen and Frank Hester. I can see Douglas Ross looking more and more embarrassed. That is the company that he keeps. [ Interruption .]

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I am very proud of John Swinney, Kate Forbes and all the company that I keep. [ Interruption .]

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I call Douglas Ross. [Interruption.] Let us hear Mr Ross.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

Humza Yousaf is talking a big game now. Has he forgotten that, just last Friday, he wrote this humiliating letter to me, begging the Conservatives and our colleagues here to save his skin? He was literally begging us to save his job. That is how quickly things change in the world of Humza Yousaf.

Let us go back to John Swinney. SNP members think that John Swinney is a safe pair of hands, but he has dropped the ball dozens of times. He was the Deputy First Minister who stood right by Nicola Sturgeon when she obsessed about independence, when she increased taxes and when she wrecked Scotland’s public services. He was the architect of the hated named persons law. He deleted every WhatsApp message that should have gone to the United Kingdom Covid inquiry, in a disgraceful cover-up. [ Interruption .]

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

John Swinney was the education secretary who let our schools spiral down international league tables, below Estonia, Latvia and Hungary. The man who oversaw the disastrous ferries deal is supposed to steady the ship. Is that really the best that the SNP can do?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Let us compare records. John Swinney was part of a Government that set up Social Security Scotland. Through our anti-poverty measures, including through the benefits that are awarded through Social Security Scotland—[ Interruption .] I can hear the Conservatives saying that those anti-poverty measures are not working, but it is estimated that they will lift 100,000 children out of poverty this year, in stark contrast to what the Conservatives are doing.

It is through John Swinney’s efforts on education and the foundations that he laid that more young people from areas of deprivation are going to university now than ever before. It was John Swinney who helped to deliver the biggest expansion of early learning and childcare in our country’s history. [ Interruption .]

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Let us look at Douglas Ross’s record. His voting record is there on websites such as TheyWorkForYou, which aggregate and assess the voting records of all MPs. On taxation and employment, Douglas Ross generally voted against higher taxes on banks. On veterans, he generally voted against strengthening the military covenant. On environmental issues, he generally voted against—[ Interruption .]

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

The Conservatives are getting worked up. It is all there in black and white. Douglas Ross cannot hide from the truth.

The website also says that he voted against improving—[ Interruption .]

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

We have gone well beyond the point at which we can hear one another. I have called only one person to speak, as far as I am aware, and I would like to hear the person who was called to speak, and them alone.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

The Conservatives do not like the truth. They do not like it one bit, because the truth shows that Douglas Ross generally voted against measures to prevent climate change—what a surprise—that he generally voted against improving air quality and that he generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights.

Let us find something that he did vote for: he voted for the Rwanda bill. What a shameful act. What a disgrace.

John Swinney, Kate Forbes or any one of my colleagues can stand proudly on their record. Can Douglas Ross stand proudly on his?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

Humza Yousaf is lashing out today because he knows that it was the Scottish Conservatives who forced him out of his job, and he knows that, in seats up and down Scotland in the coming election, it will be a straight fight between the SNP and my party. We will stand on our record of forcing him out of office—[Interruption.]

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

—and of holding this tired and failing SNP Government to account.

What will John Swinney and the SNP stand on? John Swinney has confirmed today that he will be another divisive nationalist, focused only on independence. His campaign slogan is literally “Uniting for independence”. That means more division for Scotland all over again. John Swinney has been at the heart of the failures that have defined the SNP’s time in office. How on earth will the SNP stop failing Scotland if it keeps doing the same thing over and over again?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Any colleagues who stand for the leadership of my party will stand on a record that we will take to the people of Scotland, much as Douglas Ross’s party is taking its record to people in England and Wales in the local elections today. One suspects that the people will give the Conservatives a very harsh verdict indeed. [Interruption.]

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

When it comes to the issue of independence—[Interruption.]

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Let us make it very clear that, when it comes to having a vote on the constitutional future of this country—which is a mandate that we have stood on and have won election after election on—the only reason why those in Westminster refuse to give that second referendum is that they fear the verdict.

Why do we need independence? We need independence because this country has suffered 14 years of austerity from a Government that has not won an election in Scotland since the 1950s. It is because a Brexit that we did not vote for was foisted upon us and because our people are suffering from a cost of living crisis that they did not create but are suffering the results of.

What drives John Swinney, Kate Forbes and every one of my colleagues beside and behind me—[ Interruption .]

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

—is our social contract with the people to work day and night in the service of all communities in Scotland.

When we take the record that I stand proudly on and that my successor will stand proudly on, I have no doubt at all that the people will continue to put their trust in the SNP.