OPINION - Humza Yousaf wins SNP leadership election

·4-min read
 (Ben Turner)
(Ben Turner)

Succession is the final act of leadership. For as long as power has been concentrated in the hands of mortals, men and women have sought to ensure they are followed by their chosen heir – perhaps an oldest child or political protégé. But if you want to make god laugh, tell him your succession plans.

Once granted the full force of office and with authority consolidated, new leaders tend to have a mind of their own. The Roman Emperor Trajan adopted Hadrian as his successor in 117. After Trajan’s death, Hadrian swiftly abandoned his predecessor’s expansionist policies, pulling out of Parthia (modern-day Iran) and Dacia (Romania). Indeed, Hadrian went further still, building walls not so much to keep invaders out but to define the frontier of Rome’s power.

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There are plenty of examples both more recent and closer to home of failed succession plans. Tony Blair ended up with Gordon Brown, not David Miliband. David Cameron gave way to Theresa May, rather than George Osborne. Boris Johnson and Liz Truss were desperate not to be succeeded by Rishi Sunak but, for all intents and purposes, both failed.

Getting your successor right is doubly difficult because, in democracies, even successful leaders tend to be at their lowest political ebb at the end of their time in office. That is often the reason they are standing down (or have been booted out) in the first place.

And so turning to Nicola Sturgeon, one of the most electorally successful politicians of her generation. She rose to power as the unopposed successor to Alex Salmond, and has ensured that she will be followed by the candidate of the SNP establishment, Humza Yousaf who, according to Sunder Katwala, becomes the first Muslim politician elected to be a national leader in a western democracy.

For info, first preferences were as follows:

  • Humza Yousaf: 48.2 per cent

  • Kate Forbes: 40.7 per cent

  • Ash Regan: 11 per cent

After second preferences, Yousaf won 52-48, as all elections must now be decided.

In terms of his qualities, Yousaf’s most immediate one is that he will not alienate the Scottish Greens, who had indicated a reluctance to work with a Kate Forbes-led SNP. Though Yousaf’s record is not exactly blemish-free. Forbes, who has come a pretty strong second given her disastrous entrance into the contest, delivered perhaps the best line of the campaign, in which she told her now boss:

“You were transport minister and the trains were never on time, when you were justice secretary the police were stretched to breaking point, and now as health minister, we’ve got record-high waiting times.”

The main interest for those of us living south of Hadrian’s Wall* is the electoral implications. The Tory takeover of the Red Wall in 2019 hurt Labour, but it in many ways paled in comparison with the pain inflicted by Scottish Labour’s disintegration four years earlier.

As recently as 2010, the party won 41 of Scotland’s 59 seats in parliament. It currently holds one. If, in 18 months’ time, Yousaf is considered about as successful a first minister as he was running various departments, Scottish independence will be a more remote prospect and Keir Starmer will find himself in a far better position to weather a Sunak-led Tory recovery, should one materialise.

Sturgeon, like Trajan before her, has secured a favoured successor. History shows that achievement may still count for little.

Elsewhere in the paper, the latest from Israel where flights have been grounded amid mass protests against prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reforms.

In the comment pages, Stephen King warns that we can’t let saving the banks distract us from the real foe, inflation. Tanya Gold reflects on her move away from London, and how life didn’t turn upside down. While Melanie McDonagh has views on villains in children’s books getting less ugly.

And finally, we started with succession and we’re ending with Succession. Are you excited for tonight’s episode? To whet your appetite, check out Martin Robinson’s interview with Alan Ruck aka Connor Roy, who chips in on the Brian Cox vs Jeremy Strong method acting debate...

*I know, it’s not and has never formed the Anglo-Scottish border

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