Arrests, defections and U-turns: Humza Yousaf’s first year in Bute House

The First Minister may want to focus on the future.

Arrests, defections and U-turns: Humza Yousaf’s first year in Bute House PA Media

Humza Yousaf won the SNP leadership one year ago, but he has since presided over 12 months of turmoil for the party and the country.

From the arrest of his predecessor to the defection of one of his leadership rivals, the First Minister will most likely want to put his first year behind him and focus on the future.

Here, the PA news agency looks back over the first year of his premiership:

March 27, 2023:

Mr Yousaf wins a bruising SNP leadership election, narrowly defeating closest rival Kate Forbes by 52% to 48% in the second round of voting.

Speaking after the result was announced, he said Scotland should “take pride” in electing its first leader from an ethnic minority background, and he pledged to work to reunite the party.

The First Minister saw off Kate Forbes and Ash Regan in the SNP leadership contest (Andrew Milligan/PA) PA Media

March 28:

Mr Yousaf is elected as First Minister by MSPs, seeing off hopeless attempts from Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton.

March 29:

Mr Yousaf is sworn in at the Court of Session, in front of his family, officially taking on the role of First Minister. He appointed his Cabinet within hours.

Ms Forbes is reportedly offered the rural affairs brief, but declines in favour of heading to the backbenches.

April 5:

Less than a week into Mr Yousaf’s tenure, former SNP chief executive – and Nicola Sturgeon’s husband – Peter Murrell is arrested in relation to a police investigation, dubbed Operation Branchform, into how £600,000 of crowdfunding for the party was spent.

Mr Murrell is held for questioning by detectives but later released without charge pending further investigation.

The arrest leads to one of the most iconic images in UK politics in 2023, as the house shared by Mr Murrell and Ms Sturgeon is searched, with police erecting a blue forensics tent in their front garden.

The First Minister visits a health centre in Glasgow in the hours after the arrest, but he declines to comment on a live police investigation.

Police searched the home shared by Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell (Robert Perry/PA) PA Media

April 18:

Colin Beattie, an MSP who was then serving as the SNP’s treasurer, is arrested in relation to Operation Branchform.

He is released later in the day, pending further investigation.

The arrest comes on the same day as Mr Yousaf’s first major speech as leader, during which he sets out his Government’s priorities.

May 25:

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison tells MSPs there is a £1 billion shortfall in the Scottish Government’s budget for 2024-25, which could double within three years.

On the same day, outgoing Police Scotland chief constable Sir Iain Livingstone said the force is “institutionally racist and discriminatory”.

Former chief constable Sir Iain Livingstone spoke out ahead of leaving the role (Jane Barlow/PA) PA Media

June 6:

Former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier is suspended from the House of Commons, setting up a recall petition and potential by-election in her Rutherglen and Hamilton West seat.

June 7:

The Scottish Government delays its deposit return scheme until at least October 2025 after the UK Government rejects an application for an exemption to the Internal Market Act – effectively blocking glass from the scheme.

June 11:

Nicola Sturgeon is arrested in relation to Operation Branchform.

She is released later in the day pending further investigation, and posted on social media that she knows “beyond doubt that I am in fact innocent of any wrongdoing”.

June 29:

The Scottish Government drops plans for highly protected marine areas. The proposals had sparked intense criticism, including from some on the SNP backbenches.

July 5:

The First Minister spoke during the ceremony in honour of the King and Queen (Peter Byrne/PA) PA Media

The First Minister gives a Bible reading at a service of thanksgiving in Edinburgh for the newly-crowned King and Queen.

On the same day, long-time SNP MP Angus MacNeil has the whip suspended for a week after reports of an argument with then chief whip Brendan O’Hara.

He was later suspended from the party after refusing to rejoin the Westminster group.

July 30:

Circularity Scotland, the company tasked with overseeing the deposit return scheme, folds with £86 million in debts.

August 1:

A by-election is sparked after a successful recall petition in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, with Margaret Ferrier announcing she will not stand.

August 10:

Angus MacNeil is expelled from the SNP. He later said he will stand in the next election as an independent.

September 5:

The First Minister outlined his first Programme for Government, setting his sights on the “scourge of poverty”.

September 28:

Veteran SNP MSP Fergus Ewing is suspended for a week from the party’s Holyrood group after voting against Government minister and Green co-leader Lorna Slater in a confidence vote.

October 7:

Hamas attacks Israel, prompting reprisals which trap Mr Yousaf’s in-laws in Gaza.

The First Minister’s in-laws eventually returned home safely (X/@HumzaYousaf/PA) PA Media

The First Minister becomes one of the loudest voices calling for a ceasefire to avoid civilian casualties.

October 12:

Lisa Cameron MP defects from the SNP to the Tories, accusing her former party of being “toxic”.

October 15-17:

The SNP meet in Aberdeen for its first conference in the Yousaf era. The leader surprises many by announcing a nationwide council tax freeze after previously consulting on potential increases for the highest bands.

October 26:

The lead counsel to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry says he believes Scottish Government ministers and officials deleted the majority of WhatsApp messages from during the pandemic.

October 28:

Former SNP leadership candidate Ash Regan defects to Alba.

November 5:

The First Minister’s in-laws return home to Scotland.

November 9:

Media reports reveal Mr Yousaf’s Health Secretary Michael Matheson racked up a near-£11,000 data roaming bill on a parliamentary iPad.

Mr Matheson came under pressure (Jane Barlow/PA) PA Media

He initially attempts to cover the costs using parliamentary expenses, before paying it himself in full. Mr Matheson tells MSPs in an emotional statement the bill was the result of his sons using the device as a wifi hotspot to watch football while on a family holiday.

December 19:

Shona Robison sets out the Scottish Government’s Budget, announcing a new income tax band and confirming the council tax freeze.

December 20:

The Scottish Government announces it will not appeal against a decision to uphold the UK Government’s block on its gender reforms Bill.

January 12, 2024:

The First Minister launched his party’s general election campaign in January (Steve Welsh/PA) PA Media

The SNP launches its campaign ahead of the general election, with Mr Yousaf pledging to make Scotland a “Tory-free zone”.

January 25:

The First Minister appears before the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, insisting decisions during the pandemic were not taken for political reasons.

January 31:

Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon appears before the inquiry, saying a “large part” of her wishes she had not been in the job during the pandemic. She said her biggest regret is not initiating the first lockdown earlier.

February 8:

Michael Matheson quits his Cabinet role, saying it is an attempt to avoid the ongoing parliamentary probe into his roaming bill becoming a “distraction”. Neil Gray is made Health Secretary.

March 9:

The First Minister is accused of a conflict of interest in relation to funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which works on the ground in Gaza, due to his family links to the territory.

He describes the comments from Scottish Conservative MSP Stephen Kerr as an “Islamophobic pile-on”.

March 14:

Michael Matheson is found to have breached the MSPs code of conduct in relation to his roaming bill and is referred to Holyrood’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.

March 19:

The First Minister’s proposed council tax freeze is enacted across the country after Inverclyde and Argyll and Bute reverse plans to go against it.

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