We need more than just a First Minister, we need a change in government - Alex Cole-Hamilton

First Minister Humza Yousaf at the Scottish Parliament in EdinburghFirst Minister Humza Yousaf at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh
First Minister Humza Yousaf at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh
I first met Humza Yousaf properly in 2012. We watched a makeshift volleyball match together in Elder Park in Govan. It was high summer and the middle of Ramadan.

He was a newly minted nationalist MSP and I was a youth worker. Over five hours we walked nine miles together, talking to groups of young people on a youth work shift. It was hot and he hadn’t had a stitch to eat or drink all day, but he enjoyed it very much and took a genuine interest in the lives of the young people we encountered.

As we arrived at the park my colleagues warned him that they weren’t sure what we’d find. It was a hot spot for trouble. But that summer, that Olympic summer, things were different. We kicked back and took in the sight of scores of young people playing 50-a-side volleyball with a makeshift net.

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I took no joy in watching his emotional resignation speech on Monday, despite having called for it in the days before. It was, however, the only thing for him to do.

Liberal Democrats have a proud history of setting aside differences and forming common understanding across political traditions and we will do so again in the change that’s coming for Scotland. But after speaking with my party I respectfully refused his invitation to Bute House for talks.

For minority government to work, there has to be some degree of trust and mutual respect between the parties in Parliament. But everyone had seen how he treated his closest political allies.

As events spiralled, Humza Yousaf was acting not in the national interest, but in self-interest and from a desire for political survival. Until his resignation speech, I saw nothing in those last days of his premiership of the Humza that I first encountered back in 2012.

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It's also clear that his SNP Government’s priorities were not the priorities of the people of Scotland. It’s getting harder and harder to see a GP or NHS dentist, our schools are tumbling down the international education rankings, they’ve made life harder for business and islanders are still without lifeline ferries.

All the while, the SNP Government is spending an unforgivable amount of ministerial attention and public money on fomenting constitutional division. I’m not at all convinced that new leadership in the SNP is going to recalibrate those priorities in any way.

Humza Yousaf’s resignation hurls the SNP another step closer towards the end. This is a stale government that has been in power too long, making empty promises and unable to get the basics right. At a time when we need stability and competence at the top of our politics to deliver on what really matters, we have a party of government, divided and going in the wrong direction.

What Scotland needs now is not just a change in First Minister, but a change in government. The solution is to go back to the people we serve and ask them for new instructions in the form of a Scottish Parliamentary Election. Only by going back to the people can Scotland get the real change we deserve, and the Lib Dems will be part of what comes next.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, MSP for Edinburgh Western Constituency, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

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