To describe Humza Yousaf’s inaugural First Minister’s Questions session as chaotic would be something of an understatement.
The Holyrood meeting was suspended time and again as climate protestors hollered from the public gallery. When Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone halted proceedings for a fifth time, she did so in order to clear the public gallery. A number of schoolchildren from Inverclyde were among those turfed out.
The day was to take a further irritating turn for those kids when Johnstone pressed pause for a sixth time so they could be let back in. Have pity on them, for what they were forced to witness was unedifying indeed.
If any SNP members who backed Yousaf in the contest to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as their party’s leader did so tentatively, perhaps concerned that he was not entirely up to the job, then Thursday’s parliamentary meeting will have helped concentrate their minds. It soon became clear that Scotland’s sixth first minister is hopelessly out of his depth.
When I say that there were moments when one yearned for the days of Labour’s Henry McLeish, readers of a certain age will understand just how poor Yousaf was.
The new first minister appeared to have only two responses to questions. He would either talk about the brilliance of his predecessor, or he would blame the Conservatives.
There is a constituency for this sort of stuff, for sure. The SNP’s core support will lap up praise for Sturgeon and shudder out of their suits with excitement at attacks on Tories, but if Yousaf is going to maintain his pledge to be a leader for all Scots, regardless of how they voted, he’s going to need some better lines.
Yousaf still has some persuading to do
When Tory MSP Jeremy Balfour raised the issue of constituents who have not yet received the SNP’s much trumpeted Scottish Child Payment, Yousaf looked like his eyes might roll completely out of his head. Rather than simply apologising and promising to fix the problem immediately – the only acceptable response – he lost his temper, accusing Balfour of crying “crocodile tears”.
Yousaf took office with a miserable “net” public approval score of -20 (22% favourable, 42% unfavourable). He has a way to go to persuade Scots that he’s a credible first minister.
And the result of the SNP leadership election – he defeated Kate Forbes 52-48 – shows that many in his party share doubts about his political gifts. So, perhaps, it’s unsurprising that he has come out fighting with responses designed to tickle the tummies of the nationalists’ core voters.
But, as Humza Yousaf admitted when he campaigned to succeed Nicola Sturgeon, independence will only be achieved if unionist voters can be persuaded to change their minds. That project has got off to the rockiest start imaginable.
Euan McColm is a regular columnist for various Scottish newspapers