Under-pressure Yousaf is losing party control - Sue Webber

​What were you doing yesterday? At work as normal, occupying the kids at half-term, getting the shopping in?
SNP leader Humza Yousaf speaks outside the V and A in Dundee. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA WireSNP leader Humza Yousaf speaks outside the V and A in Dundee. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
SNP leader Humza Yousaf speaks outside the V and A in Dundee. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

​What you weren’t doing was voting in the second independence referendum which ex-First Minister Nicola Sturgeon assured us would happen on October 19, 2023.

Only in the parallel universe in which everyone bowed to Ms Sturgeon’s absolute authority was there ever a chance the vote would take place, and as reality dawned, she knew her time was up.

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The SNP faithful swarmed round her at the SNP conference in Aberdeen like some comeback pop star, but the truth is she led them up the garden path and left her chosen successor Humza Yousaf with an impossible task.

On Wednesday night after I’d appeared on BBC’s Debate Night, an SNP die-hard approached economy minister Neil Gray and mourned, “The cause is lost.” And this was only a day after Mr Yousaf’s Aberdeen speech was supposed to have boosted their morale.

His Council Tax freeze was meant to be the big rabbit, and while we in the Scottish Conservatives would normally welcome an apparent recognition of the benefit of low taxation, no-one was fooled into thinking it was anything but a panicked reaction to the SNP’s disastrous performance at the Rutherglen by-election.

It might have cheered the hall, but such an obvious election sweetener made him look not just desperate but inconsistent, one minute arguing for so-called “progressive” taxation in which the better off pay the most, and the next announcing a flat tax break for everyone.

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Of course, he has no idea how to fund the estimated £1bn bundle of bribes, so tax rises are inevitable if he survives long enough to honour his promises.

But there’s another problem, because in ripping up a deal with local authorities he agreed only in June, there are serious questions about his trustworthiness.

The Verity House Agreement, named after the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) headquarters in Haymarket, promised a relationship between national and local government “based on mutual trust and respect,” and that council powers “may not be undermined or limited by another, central or regional, authority except as provided for by the law.”

The Scottish Government promised there would be “improved engagement on budgetary matters” by the end of September, but just a fortnight on Mr Yousaf has chucked it in the bucket.

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COSLA received no notice of the announcement, so it appears Mr Yousaf’s definition of mutual trust and respect may be at variance with the rest of us, and if he can bin a written agreement after only three months because of a bad night at the polls, why should anyone take anything he says at face value?

“We deplore the way the announcement was made,” said COSLA president and Moray SNP councillor Shona Morrison in an official statement. “There is real anger at the way this has been handled and what it puts at risk,” she said. As if the SNP isn’t divided enough.

But let’s give Mr Yousaf the benefit of the doubt. He’s not untrustworthy, just under pressure politically and domestically, and he’s gone along with a wheeze dreamt up by advisers yearning for the halcyon days of Alex Salmond. Not untrustworthy, just not in control. And for a leader, that’s as bad.Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Lothian