It can be a difficult task picking out the most incompetent minister in the Scottish government. There’s Sturgeon’s deputy John Swinney, the man who faced two votes of confidence in seven months. There’s Shona Robison, resurrected in May having been forced to resign in 2018 amid near-universal criticism of her management of the health brief. And of course there’s Transport minister Michael Matheson, a man with no discernible achievements to his name, now knee-deep in the ferries scandal.
But of all the SNP’s top talent surely no man has blundered more regularly than Humza Yousaf. In the decade since his election to Holyrood he has established himself as the Forrest Gump of Scottish politics, popping up at a department every time it is bedevilled by controversy, misfortune or error. The botched launch of the much-vaunted Covid app is just the latest in a series of scandals which have stalked Yousaf through his years of public life. Below is Steerpike’s guide to six of the worst Humza howlers…
Elected in 2011, Yousaf’s first government gig was Minister for Europe and International Development – a post he left just 36 days before, er, the UK voted to leave the EU. Named Minister for Transport in 2016, Yousaf swiftly made a name for himself. There was the continuing embarrassment over ‘ScotFail‘ and its poor service times which saw trains skip stations as routine policy. There was the exodus of rail passengers over overcrowding and train cancellations. And of course there was the ongoing ferries saga – the longest-running farce north of the West End. To top it all off, in December 2016 Yousaf was slapped with a £300 fine and six penalty points on his driving licence after being caught by police for driving a friend’s car without insurance.
— The Scottish Sun (@ScottishSun) December 7, 2016
Hate crime howlers
After two error-strewn years at Transport, Nicola Sturgeon decided there was only one thing to do with Yousaf: promote him. As reward for a job well done, Humza was (ironically) named as Justice Secretary – at the time the only such minister in Europe without a law degree. In this capacity he spent most of his time desperately trying to pass the notorious Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill. The legislation aimed to introduce a new offence of ‘stirring up hatred’ was described by SNP veteran Jim Sillars as ‘one of the most pernicious and dangerous pieces of legislation ever produced by any government in modern times in any part of the United Kingdom.’
It managed the dubious feat of alienating the Catholic Church, the National Secular Society, the BBC, the Scottish Police Federation and the Faculty of Advocates and was only passed after successive amendments. Yousaf did his bit with a headline-grabbing Holyrood committee session in which he insisted that conversations over the dinner table which incite hatred must be prosecuted too, with theatre directors and journalists also held to be liable. Other lowlights from his time at Justice include being forced to apologise for the vaginal mesh scandal and his lamentable performance at a Holyrood committee grilling at which he could not answer questions about his government’s ‘chaotic’ quarantine scheme.
And let’s not forget the Dundee police station where the ceiling collapsed just hours after Yousaf labelled criticisms of the force’s buildings conditions as ‘hyperbole.’
Social media slip ups
Whether it’s in-person or online, Yousaf is equally at home in making gaffes. His social media shenanigans got him into several scrapes when he was Justice Secretary. In May he rushed to slam Rangers football players on Twitter for being filmed supposedly making sectarian chants – a video which was subsequently shown to be a fake, for which Yousaf refused to apologise. The rush to judgement which was all the more troubling in light of his responsibility for the Scottish prosecution service. It came after previous incidents in which the minister had mourned the death of an infamous Glaswegian gangster in a (hastily-deleted) tweet and another post in which he mocked Tory leader Douglas Ross for falling over at a football game – something which resurfaced last month after Yousaf moaned about being filmed tripping up in Holyrood.
Best moment of the 2nd half – Douglas Ross MP decks it a belter! Can’t wait to see the meme…
— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) May 19, 2018
After three years at Justice, Nicola Sturgeon decided there was only one thing to do with Yousaf: promote him (again). Handed the high-profile brief of Health Secretary in May, the newly-appointed minister has thus far managed to live down to expectations in his five months in the job. Less than three weeks in he had to apologise for his ‘appallingly misleading’ press statements after claiming young children had been hospitalised ‘because of Covid.’
Then there was the refusal to meet NHS Tayside dosing scandal patients, the row over his trip to Harry Potter World and the pandemic failings which saw Scotland dubbed the ‘Covid capital of Europe’ in July, with Scottish health boards named among the continent’s top ten worst-hit regions. The month was rounded off with Scotland again achieving Europe’s highest per capita rate of drug deaths, at 25.2 fatalities per 100,000 people – more than three-and-a-half times higher than the rest of the UK. September meanwhile saw Yousaf confirm that the state of emergency within the Scottish NHS will be extended until April 2020.
Humza Yousaf criticised by statistics watchdog over inaccurate child coronavirus claim https://t.co/iWejjjm6mE
— Record Politics (@Record_Politics) June 11, 2021
While much of the blame for Scotland’s creaking healthcare system lies with Yousaf’s mediocre predecessors, the recent ambulance saga was largely his own creation. With the average vehicle taking some six hours to arrive, Yousaf last month caused a media storm after telling the BBC that people should think twice about phoning 999 – comments which prompted accusations that Yousaf was putting lives at risk. The crisis, combined with problems with the accident and emergency waiting times, has now forced the humiliated Health Secretary to call in the British Army – a luxury which the ardent nationalist would be denied if he achieves his dream of an independent Scotland.
To compound all this, an interview by Yousaf to the Daily Record blindsided government officials after he revealed plans to ease pressure on the ambulance services before releasing them to Holyrood. It earned him a rebuke from Alison Johnstone, the presiding officer, for speaking to the press before the parliament amid accusations that he had breached the ministerial code. All this came just after his poorly-received NHS Recovery Plan – which stretched to a mere 28 pages – and the decision of Yousaf and his wife to sue a local nursery for discrimination; something which Sturgeon only discovered after she read it in the paper. Awkward.
So the App doesn’t work, you cannot download the PDF certificate, and right now you cannot even order a printed copy. Come on @HumzaYousaf, pull your finger out; your department is an utter shambles.@jackiebmsp, @Sandeshgulhane, @agcolehamilton https://t.co/N6VwdkN8CV pic.twitter.com/q2jY0GU4rf
— 🏴🇬🇧Iain_L 🇬🇧🏴 (@Iain_L) October 1, 2021
Sadly for Humza, October doesn’t look to get much better for him. The Scottish government’s new Covid app launched yesterday but has already been widely panned as a disaster – despite it being essential to the SNP’s controversial vaccine passport scheme. Social media users have bombarded government accounts to complain the app could not find their vaccination record. Instead a message now shows ‘Something went wrong. We’re working on it.’
Rather appropriate for a Yousaf-led department eh?<//>
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