The four key issues facing Humza Yousaf, according to John Curtice

The polling expert described the First Minister as a 'nice chap' who is 'intellectually able' but said there are questions about his leadership.

John Curtice: The four key issues facing Humza Yousaf as Scotland’s First Minister and SNP leader Getty Images

Professor Sir John Curtice has laid out four key issues facing Humza Yousaf to mark the one-year anniversary of the SNP leader becoming Scotland’s First Minister.

The Strathclyde University politics professor, considered one of the top pollsters in the UK, described the FM as a “nice chap” who is “intellectually able” but said questions remained about his leadership.

On March 29 2023, Yousaf was sworn into office as Scotland’s youngest ever First Minister, and the first from an ethnic minority background to hold the post.

A year on, Curtice pointed to four challenges for the FM.

Humza Yousaf’s popularity

Humza Yousaf lacks the popularity of his predecessors, surveys suggest.Getty Images

The first is that he lacks the popularity of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon when they were in Bute House, according to surveys.

“There’s not been any real progress in that respect over the last 12 months,” Curtice told STV News.

Yousaf remains in negative territory, Curtice says, unlike much of the premiership of both Salmond and Sturgeon.

The polling expert said that reflected an underlying issue in the SNP.

During the SNP leadership contest, Yousaf received around 52% of the vote when he edged out a win over Kate Forbes.

Curtice said: “There are clearly not inconsiderable doubts within the party about his competence.

“Nobody questions that he’s a nice chap, that he’s intellectually able but whether he’s got what it takes to provide leadership is another thing.”

Divisions within the SNP

Former SNP leadership contender Ash Regan quit the party to join Alba while Kate Forbes was scathing of Humza Yousaf's record in government during the contest.Getty Images

The second issue Curtice sees for Yousaf is the differing factions within the SNP.

Yousaf is considered on the progressive side of the party, similar to Nicola Sturgeon, and supports generally higher taxes on the most wealthy in society as well as a host of social issues such as gender reform.

“The leadership contest exposes a difference of those on the relatively right side represented by Kate Forbes and those on the left,” Curtice said.

He said the public now view the SNP as divided, in contrast to the party under Sturgeon.

“Divided parties are not that popular,” he added.

Operation Branchform

Three people have been arrested during Police Scotland's investigation into the SNP's finances. None have been charged.STV News

The third issue is the Police Scotland investigation into the SNP’s finances.

Curtice said that makes it difficult for the party to raise money ahead of the next general election.

The last publicly available accounts from the party showed it had a deficit of £800,000.

‘Being in government right now sucks’

John Curtice said it was economic factors mean being in government right now is tough.Getty Images

The fourth issue, he said, was “the nasty fact that being in government sucks at the moment”.

He added: “The economy is going nowhere, as it is going nowhere in the UK as a whole, the health service is under creak, as it is across the UK as a whole, and the fiscal position is very tight.

“It’s tighter in Scotland than elsewhere because of decisions made by the Scottish Government to spend more money on welfare which isn’t funded through Barnett (consequentials).

“The thing that now seems to be true is that at the last Holyrood election people weren’t put off voting SNP because of their perceived record in government – they now are.”

Curtice said independence was not much of a factor in the fall of support for the SNP, with Yes and No remaining steady in the polls.

“But some people who voted for independence are no longer willing to vote for the SNP in the way they once were,” he said.

He said that while this helped the Labour Party, Anas Sarwar and Keir Starmer still suffered from a lack of enthusiasm.

With Starmer expected to win the next election, Curtice said “by the time we get to 2026 the [Labour] party may not be very popular.”

He added that in the UK “for the most part, and this is true in Scotland, Labour are where they are not because of enthusiasm for them but discontent for their opponents, principally the Conservatives”.

Yousaf said he is “proud” of his first year in office and pointed to his government’s record on child poverty as a key reason.

He said: “Over the last year, I have been focused on leading a party and government for all of Scotland – working for everyone, in communities across the country.

“In my first budget, I didn’t prioritise tax cuts for higher earners like the Tories did at Westminster – I chose instead to prioritise investment in our NHS, education and other public services.

“And under my leadership, we’ve worked with councils to deliver a fully-funded council tax freeze next year – keeping money in families pockets when they need it in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.

“We’ve also increased investment in the game-changing Scottish Child Payment, a benefit which is helping support low-income families that’s only available in Scotland.

“Recent analysis estimates that around 100,000 children will be kept out of poverty thanks to this policy – a significant achievement at any time, but even more so when so many children are being pushed into poverty thanks to cruel Westminster policies that Labour fully support.

“We all want Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up, and the upcoming election is an opportunity for voters to protect Scotland’s values in the face of further Westminster cuts by voting SNP.

“The SNP is the only party that will always stand up for Scotland at Westminster.”  

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