Emotional Humza Yusaf resigns as Scotland’s first minister ahead of two no confidence votes

An emotional Humza Yousaf has quit as Scotland’s first minister, in a huge boost for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s hopes north of the border.

In the latest blow to the SNP, which has been in turmoil since the departure of Nicola Sturgeon last February, Mr Yousaf threw in the towel ahead of two tough no-confidence votes this week.

“Politics can be a brutal business,” the outgoing first minister said, at times fighting back tears.

Professor Sir John Curtice told The Independent that chaos engulfing the SNP was “God’s gift to the Labour Party”. Under Sir Keir, it is battling to win back tens of seats lost amid a wipeout for Labour in Scotland in 2015.

At the last general election, Labour won just one Westminster seat north of the border, with current polls putting it on course to win 22 when the country goes to the polls later this year.

In a desperate bid to avoid another damaging leadership contest playing out in public, the SNP looks set to crown former deputy first minister John Swinney as its new leader. He has said he is “considering” a bid to take over from Mr Yousaf, with senior SNP figures including Westminster leader Stephen Flynn and his predecessor Ian Blackford also in the running.

The divisive contest to replace Ms Sturgeon just over a year ago saw contenders Mr Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan publicly attacking one another.

Mr Yousaf was facing two votes of confidence after he terminated the power-sharing deal between the SNP and Scottish Greens last week.

Despite previously saying he would not stand down and intended to win the confidence votes, the first minister then announced he would be leaving his role, giving the news at a hurriedly arranged press conference.

Former SNP leader Alex Salmond, who leads the pro-independence Alba party, said that up until Monday morning Mr Yousaf was still trying to do a deal with Ms Regan, who held a crucial vote in Holyrood in deciding the first minister’s fate.

Mr Yousaf claimed he was not willing to “do deals with whomever simply for retaining power”. The outgoing first minister extraordinarily claimed that independence feels “frustratingly close”. But there appears to be little prospect of a second referendum any time soon, and the chaos surrounding his departure will only deal a fresh blow to the independence movement.

Announcing his decision, he said he had “clearly underestimated the level of hurt and upset” his decision had caused.

He added: “I’ve concluded that repairing a relationship across the political divide can only be done with someone else at the helm.

“I have therefore informed the SNP national secretary of my intention to stand down as party leader and ask that she commences a leadership contest for my replacement, as soon as possible.”

The crisis in Mr Yousaf’s government began after he ripped up the power-sharing agreement he had with the Scottish Greens, which had been brokered by his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon after the 2021 Holyrood election.

Following the breakdown in relations, the Greens immediately agreed to support a motion of no confidence in Yousaf’s leadership brought by the Scottish Conservatives.

A second no-confidence vote against the entire Scottish government was brought forward by Scottish Labour, which would have required the first minister and his ministers to resign if successful.

Humza Yousaf announced his resignation during a press conference (Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)
Humza Yousaf announced his resignation during a press conference (Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

As the SNP is two votes short of a majority at Holyrood, Mr Yousaf was dependent on the vote of the former SNP minister Ash Regan, who defected to Alex Salmond’s Alba party last October in protest at the SNP’s gender recognition reforms and approach to independence.

Scottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie toldBBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think Humza Yousaf any more is in a position to be able to lead.”

He added: “I don’t think there is anything that Humza Yousaf will be able to say to restore the trust he has broken.”

The SNP will now face yet another leadership election in a little over a year just as the party is beleaguered by scandal.

Last week saw the re-arrest of Peter Murrell, the husband of the former leader,in connection with Police Scotland’s investigation into the SNP’s finances.

The police launched a probe into £660,000 raised specifically for Scottish independence campaigning after it was allegedly diverted from the “ring-fenced” fund – sparking the exit of senior people from the SNP.

Ms Sturgeon resigned as Scotland’s first minister and SNP leader last February, saying that the pressures of the job had become “very difficult” after eight years in charge.

Several of Mr Yousaf’s SNP colleagues have paid tribute to his time as first minister. Ms Sturgeon praised the “grace, dignity and integrity” he exhibited during his time in office, while former deputy first minister John Swinney called him a “pioneer” and praised his “principled and empathetic leadership to our country”.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn praised his “integrity, compassion and commitment” during his time in the job, while former Westminster leader Ian Blackford said he is “so sorry” that Mr Yousaf felt “compelled” to resign as first minister and called him a “good and a decent man” in a post on Twitter/X.

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has called for a Scottish election following his resignation. He stated: “The SNP are a divided party which is out of ideas and incapable of rising to the challenges Scotland faces.

“They cannot impose another unelected first minister on Scotland in a backroom deal; the people of Scotland should decide who leads our country. There must be an election – it’s time for change and Scottish Labour is ready to deliver it.”

Downing Street said that the UK Government will work with Humza Yousaf’s successor to deliver on “the real issues that matter to people”, while Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said Mr Yousaf made the right decision to resign as his leadership had “lurched from crisis to crisis from the very start”.

Ash Regan, who leads the Alba Party in Holyrood, said it was “bizarre” that some SNP MSPs would rather he resigned from the top post than do a deal with the pro-independence party.

The former SNP politician added: “However, a new SNP leader and a new first minister will not change parliamentary arithmetic. I continue to stand ready to work in the best interests of Scotland and to advance the cause of Scottish independence.”

Speculation around who may succeed Mr Yousaf to become the next leader of the SNP has started swirling. Asked if he was considering standing to be Scotland’s next first minister, Mr Swinney said he was giving “very careful consideration” to throwing his name in and said he’d “been somewhat overwhelmed” by requests from colleagues to stand.

Kate Forbes is among those tipped to replace Humza Yousaf as SNP leader and first minister (PA Wire)
Kate Forbes is among those tipped to replace Humza Yousaf as SNP leader and first minister (PA Wire)

SNP MSP Fergus Ewing has said that former Scottish cabinet secretary Kate Forbes is “head and shoulders” above any other potential candidate to take over the job of Scotland’s first minister.

Ms Forbes won 48 per cent of the vote in the second round of voting in last year’s leadership election, narrowly losing out to Mr Yousaf.

Mr Ewing told BBC Radio 4 that Ms Forbes is “is head and shoulders above the other candidates and she also is not associated with the problems that I think caused Humza eventually to resign.”