Personal Statement

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:16 pm on 7 May 2024.

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 2:16, 7 May 2024

The next item of business is a personal statement by Humza Yousaf. There should be no interventions or interruptions.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party 2:39, 7 May 2024

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am grateful for the opportunity to make a final statement from the front benches. It gives me the opportunity to put on the record some thanks to several people who have supported me on the incredible journey that I have been blessed to be on over the past 12 years as a minister in the Government.

I will say no more about my wonderful family, partly because there are really no words to convey my love for them for putting up with me over the past 12 years and beyond, but also because I promised my 15-year-old that I would not embarrass her again by crying on national television. So, my first thanks are to you, Presiding Officer, and those who preceded you for the fairness that you have shown me during my time on the front benches. I, of course, intend to repay that fairness by being a model back bencher who will be on their best behaviour—I do not believe that the Opposition is laughing—at least for the first few weeks.

I think that many of us will be in a reflective mood as we mark 25 years of devolution this week. I am certain that I am not the only one who has reread the historic and remarkable opening speech that Donald Dewar gave when this Parliament was reconvened. There are many lines that could be quoted, but one in particular stood out for me this week. He said:

“This is about more than our politics and our laws. This is about who we are, how we carry ourselves.”

In that vein, I offer thanks to every colleague across the political divide for the kindnesses that they have shown me over the years. We often—I am guilty of this, too—lament the toxic nature of our political debate, and it is true that there is entrenched tribalism that feels difficult to free ourselves from. However, I will remember far more fondly the kindness and generosity of colleagues over the years.

I got to witness that kindness when I made my first-ever speech in the chamber on 2 June 2011. After I had made my speech, a certain Tavish Scott followed with his contribution shortly thereafter. He addressed me directly and said:

“If that is the standard of your first speech, I cannot wait for the next one, the next one and the next one.”—[Official Report, 2 June 2011; c 327.]

I suspect that Tavish Scott did not quite expect me to drone on for as long as I have. However, that compliment—that one moment of kindness—from a very senior MSP in this Parliament made me feel 10 feet tall. It cost Tavish Scott nothing, yet it settled that very nervous 26-year-old new entrant to the chamber and gave me confidence to ensure that I bettered myself.

What I am really trying to say is that this is all Tavish Scott’s fault—I jest, of course. I have had many such instances of kindness over the years, from my SNP colleagues and those right across the political spectrum. They have come at some of the most difficult times in my life—for example, when my in-laws were recently trapped in Gaza—but they have also come at times of great celebration, for example when my daughter Amal was born five years ago.

The purpose of mentioning that is to remind myself—and others, I hope—that kindness costs us nothing. Being good to one another costs us nothing and being compassionate to one another costs us nothing, yet it can quite literally make a whole world of difference. For all the kindness that has been shown to me by colleagues over the years, I say: thank you.

Let me also take a moment to thank the incredible civil service for its unwavering dedication to our country. I cannot possibly thank every member of my private office over the years, or, indeed, all the civil servants who I have had the great pleasure of working closely with, but I am grateful to each and every one of them for their support over the years. There are sections of our society, our politics and our media that enjoy denigrating civil servants and see them as an easy target. Such lazy commentary is often far from the truth. Our civil servants work tirelessly for their country, not seeking the limelight but quietly and diligently getting on with the job of serving Scotland and often going above and beyond the call of duty. For that, they have my eternal thanks and my admiration.

I have had the greatest privilege of my life in serving my country and Government for almost 12 years as Minister for External Affairs and International Development, Minister for Transport and the Islands, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care and, of course, most recently, as First Minister. My thanks must go to the people who gave me that opportunity by electing me to this place—the good people of Glasgow in 2011 and the fine people of Glasgow Pollok since 2016, who have continued to put their trust in me to stand up for them and to serve them. I also thank my predecessors as First Minister for giving this boy opportunities that he could only have imagined in his wildest dreams. I am grateful for the trust that they have put in me over the years—because, you see, Presiding Officer, the young Humza Yousaf could never have imagined that he would be able to lead this country.

I was six years old when I was first told to “go home”, and I am afraid that, since then, that has been a regular occurrence—in fact, it happens almost daily in my social media feeds. I will not lie: that is the racial slur that hurts me most, probably, simply because I have no other home. I never will. I never have. My heart will forever belong to Scotland. To have the opportunity, therefore, to defy the far right—to defy the racists and the bigots who told me to go home, and to be in a position to serve my home, to contribute to public life in my home and to have had the opportunity to lead my home—has been the most tremendous honour, which I did not think was reserved for people who looked like me. There—I have broken my promise to my 15-year-old daughter.

I hope that, from my example, other little boys and girls who look or sound different will know that our differences make us unique and should be celebrated as part of a modern and diverse Scotland, and that they should in no way ever hold us back from achieving our dreams.

Lastly, to my successor—my dear friend, John Swinney—who is one of the most empathetic, kind and compassionate people I have had the pleasure of knowing over the years, I say that such qualities are crucial in life and are absolutely necessary to being First Minister. I remember Nicola Sturgeon saying to me that a First Minister gets to make someone’s day every day in office—I suspect that I am quite possibly also making somebody’s day by leaving office. However, I can testify that Nicola Sturgeon was absolutely right. A First Minister can make someone's day through the smallest act of kindness—such as stopping for a selfie with someone—or through transformative policy such as the Scottish child payment.

The privilege of serving the people of Scotland through this office never gets tiring. I know that John will do his family, our party and our nation proud as he dedicates his life to the service of Scotland—the country that we are all proud to call home and that we all love so dearly.

To conclude, I will take some time to refamiliarise myself with the back benches. I intend to be an active contributor to the Parliament, as my constituents would expect, and I will continue to champion those issues that are close to my heart—ensuring that I give a voice to the voiceless, be they at home or overseas.

In that vein, I cannot let today’s remarks go by without pleading one last time from the front benches for the international community to stop any further massacre of the innocent people of Gaza. A full-scale invasion of Rafah, which is home to 1.4 million people, including 600,000 children, will result only in the slaughter of more innocent civilians in what is likely to be one of the clearest violations to date of international law.

A clear signal must be sent to the Israeli Government that to defy the international community in that way will come with significant consequence and sanction. Everything possible must be done to demand an immediate ceasefire, a release of all the hostages and an end to arms sales to Israel. We must be on the right side of history, which must mean standing with innocent men, women and children. To do otherwise would be unforgivable.

My time as First Minister is over. However, I am absolutely certain that, for the rest of my life, every Thursday, at one minute to 12 in the afternoon, my palms will begin to sweat and the knot in my stomach will tighten. That comes from a place of deep respect for the Parliament, for all those in Opposition and indeed for my own colleagues alongside me. That respect will always continue.

I hope that we can all live up to the hopes of the founding fathers and mothers of devolution and work together in the interests of the common good and the common weal—and that we do so with kindness.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. It has been an honour and a privilege. [ Applause .]

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

On behalf of the Parliament, I thank Humza Yousaf for his service as First Minister.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—