Saturday 25 February 2023

And then there were three


SNP members have a choice between 3 candidates. Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan.

Enough has been written about Kate Forbes. She is by far the brightest and most dangerous opponent. I hope she loses, therefore. She will. Despite remaining popular with the public, she cannot possibly become First Minister as some SNP MSPs would not vote for her. She is essentially a Christian fundamentalist whose views are to the right of most Scottish Conservatives. But the vast majority of SNP MSPs are left wing progressives. We can assume that Forbes will not win (good) and if she has any sense will not remain an MSP for long.

I first heard of Ash Regan when she opposed the Gender Recognition Bill and resigned as Community Safety Minister (whatever that is) because of her opposition. This required both courage and good sense. What SNP progressives including Sturgeon don’t get is that allowing people with male bodies into women’s spaces is hugely unpopular with most voters. The common-sense view that men cannot become women is held almost universally outside universities and Holyrood.

Ditching some of Sturgeon’s progressive policies might increase support for the SNP, but again how could Regan lead a party where vast numbers of MPs and MSPs think that she is a TERF transphobe?

But while Regan has a common-sense view about transgender, she has an ultra-fundamentalist view on Scottish independence. I’m not sure if they came up with it independently or if they shared notes, but Regan’s view is that put forward by the site Wings over Scotland.

I know that lots of Pro UK people think that Wings is a charlatan, but I read him more than any other Scottish nationalist commentator. He is by far the best informed both about the inner workings of the SNP and Alba. He is obviously in close contact with insiders.

The Wings scheme goes something like this. Every Holyrood election and General Election becomes a vote on Scottish independence. If independence supporting parties ever get 50% plus one vote, they will begin negotiations on separation from the UK. Regan endorses this.

There are a number of problems with this, but perhaps the biggest can be illustrated with an example. After losing an authorised, legal referendum in September 2014, in May 2015 the SNP won fractionally less than 50% and the Scottish Greens won 1.3%. This means that independence parties won just over 51%. So according to Wing/Regan they should have immediately begun negotiations on independence less than a year after decisively losing a referendum on that very question. Sorry, that is preposterous.

The UK Government has no moral, legal or democratic duty to respond to First Minister Regan after winning such a vote by negotiating with her. The only legal route to independence is a legal referendum agreed by Westminster. The Wings/Regan scheme amounts to UDI without negotiations and without being recognised either by the former UK or the international community.

The idea that the UN or the EU is going to come riding to the rescue of the Scottish homesteaders in their circle of wagons is to ignore that each permanent member of the UN Security Council is in favour of the territorial integrity of the state and the EU did not come to the rescue of Catalonia not least because it does not want to encourage secession movements within its members.

Regan could indeed declare UDI. She needs a simple majority in Holyrood. I don’t think the UK would do anything to stop her. But it would mean an immediate loss of Treasury funds and the new Scottish Government being unable to borrow with perhaps a financial crisis along the lines of Sri Lanka.

Regan is a Scottish nationalist fundamentalist whose idea of how to achieve independence is not merely mad it is dangerous. Which leaves us with Humza Yousaf.

Mr Yousaf has a lot of ministerial experience, but things have not always gone to plan. While Transport Minister he was caught driving without correct insurance cover. He made a mistake. It could have happened to any of us, but it is reasonable to expect a transport minister to do rather better.

While Justice Secretary Mr Yousaf introduced a Hate Crime Bill, which he said would abolish the crime of blasphemy, but it did so by really extending the crime to all religions. It also extended the concept of a hate crime to what people might say in their own homes in private. So, if I said something that Mr Yousaf might find hurtful in my kitchen, in theory he might be able to prosecute me for a hate crime if the person I was talking to told him about it.

The fundamental problem with the modern concept of hate crime is that it depends on the perception of the supposed victim rather than the truth. If someone reports me because they perceive my actions to have been homophobic, my actions automatically are homophobic even if I didn’t even know the person was gay.

We all have a duty to not attack others verbally or physically because they are Muslim, gay, or trans, but free speech requires that I can think and write what I please about these people. Otherwise, we get the situation where Kate Forbes faces disciplinary action from her own party and possibly a conviction from a law passed by her fellow candidate for committing a hate crime.

Mr Yousaf has now moved onto Health Secretary. He inherited a very difficult situation after Covid. But it is fair to say that his work thus far in terms of outcomes has not seen an improvement in Scottish healthcare. Rather it is considerably worse now than when he began.

I would very much like to see Mr Yousaf become First Minister. I think he would do a poor job at that too. I also don’t think he would be popular. He once harangued the Scottish Parliament about various jobs being held by people who were white. But well over 90% of Scots are white, so why should that be surprising. What’s more we are now in a situation where the leader of Scottish Labour is of South Asian descent, the London Mayor too and the Prime Minister. If Mr Yousaf becomes First Minister of Scotland, he can hardly complain of unequal opportunities. The UK will have shown itself to be by far the best place in Europe for people from ethnic minorities to reach the too top in politics. I can’t think of any black or brown leaders anywhere else. Can you Mr Yousaf?

There is for me a mystery at the heart of Mr Yousaf’s candidacy. He is Scottish born in Scotland and has the right to support whatever political principles he chooses, but why Scottish independence? I can understand that Kate Forbes and Ash Regan were probably brought up to think of themselves as Scottish and not British. Perhaps their parents told them about the dream of Scottish independence.

But Mr Yousaf’s parents while choosing to come to Scotland might equally well have chosen to go to Bradford or Birmingham. In the latter case would Mr Yousaf have been an English nationalist or support the secession of Yorkshire? If he had been born in Belfast, would he have joined the DUP or instead chosen Sinn Féin? If he had been born in South Carolina in a previous generation, would he have been a Confederate?

Why does Mr Yousaf think that he is Scottish and not British and if he doesn’t think this why does he want to separate one group of British people in Scotland from the rest?

The mystery at the heart of Mr Yousaf’s candidacy is that the SNP is in essence a nativist almost universally white organisation, which depends on appealing to a long ago past with the desire to restore what was lost in 1707. Mr Yousaf has a perfect right to lead such an independence movement. But why would he want to? It’s like Frederick Douglass leading the Confederacy.

But I will cheer on Mr Yousaf as he leads the charge on the third day at Gettysburg. Frankly I hope he does become First Minister.