Euan McColm Euan McColm

Humza Yousaf and his ridiculous, feigned outrage

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf (Getty Images)

Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf is a politician with two settings. If he’s being asked about a difficult issue – the Police Scotland investigation into SNP finances, for example, or his government’s failure to deliver its policies – he does a reasonable approximation of sincerity, all soft voice and sad eyes. You can see the parts moving but, credit to the man, he gives it a go. At all other times, Yousaf is in outrage mode, shuddering with fury at this or that decision of the UK Government.

The First Minister maximises the opportunities for public displays of anger by – in common with all populist nationalists – absolving himself of any duty to be consistent. Something that was perfectly acceptable on a Monday can become an Indyref trigger by Tuesday if the SNP leader thinks there are points to be scored.

Does Humza Yousaf really believe the UK government should impose its own legislation on the matter?

Sometimes this capriciousness renders Yousaf ridiculous.

On Tuesday, the First Minister spoke of his anger at the decision of UK ministers not to include Scottish sub-postmasters in legislation that will pardon those wrongly convicted after being caught up in the Horizon scandal.

‘I am,’ puffed Yousaf, ‘utterly furious by the fact the UK Government have chosen to extend their legislation to every single part of the United Kingdom, except Scotland.’

According to the First Minister, this unfair treatment of Scottish sub-postmasters was ‘completely unacceptable’. In fact, these innocent victims were being used as political pawns and he’d be writing to the Prime Minister about it all.

If anyone was using the victims of the Horizon scandal as pawns, it was Humza Yousaf. His outrage over the UK Government’s legislative plans was entirely concocted.

Scottish sub-postmasters were not prosecuted, as those in other parts of the UK were, by the Post Office. Those wrongfully convicted north of the border were taken to court by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. UK Enterprise minister Kevin Hollinrake is entirely correct to say it is more appropriate for Holyrood to legislate on this matter, given Scotland’s separate legal system.

Can you imagine the SNP reaction if he’d taken a different view? If a single Tory minister had even hinted that they thought Westminster should legislate in a devolved area, Humza Yousaf would have been all over the airwaves complaining about a ‘power grab’ and (a current Nat favourite) a ‘full frontal assault on devolution’.

In fact, the Scottish government has its own legislation on these matters on track. Neither Yousaf nor any of his colleagues expected the UK Government to act on their behalf. Long before this week’s calculated outburst, the First Minister had concluded this was a matter for Holyrood.

On 16 January, Scotland’s Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain – principal legal adviser to the Scottish Government – told members of the Scottish parliament that the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission had been working since 2020 with sub-postmasters who may have been wrongly convicted in Scotland. Does Humza Yousaf really believe the UK government should steamroller over that work and impose its own legislation on the matter?

Of course he doesn’t. But what the SNP leader believes, and what the SNP leader is willing to say in the name of independence, aren’t always the same thing.