The SNP loves to clap. They clap at Holyrood. They clap at Westminster, where it’s not even allowed. It’s egalitarian and unpretentious – none of that Tory “hear, hear!” for them. The only downside to all this vigorous clapping is that when you don’t clap, it gets noticed. When Humza Yousaf laid out his thrilling new plan for Scotland, he was interrupted by applause just twice. His MSPs looked exhausted and worried. The party is in trouble.
Fifteen minutes into Yousaf’s “fresh start” and he’s aged by 30 years, with haunted eyes and a hunted vibe. He looks like the prince who inherited a golden crown, only to be informed that he’s handling stolen goods. The SNP, which has long insisted that there’s more to Scotland than Taggart, has bequeathed him financial crisis, arrests and a luxury motorhome that was left parked, mysteriously, outside the house of Nicola Sturgeon’s mother-in-law. “Being First Minister is not without its challenges,” he said. The opposition laughed. Undeterred, he rehearsed the spiel that got him elected to this unhappy office.
First, promise ‘the Scots “equality, opportunity and community”. Second, blame any shortfall in these on Westminster. And third, talk up one’s “lived experience”, which is like regular experience but with a compelling adjective. We were reminded that Humza is the proud son of immigrants, but also that he is “the proud son of a business owner” – for Yousaf can be all things to all demographics. Were there votes to be had in professing an interest in Buddhism, he’d be “speaking as the proud reincarnation of Anne Boleyn”. On this occasion, we got a blend of Scotland as a “land of opportunity” – ie capitalism – and “redistribution”, aka socialism, sticking to Sturgeon’s pretence that an independent Scotland will allow voters to grow their cake and eat it. Had the lady been there, she’d have been proud. Oddly, she wasn’t.
The SNP “is in meltdown!” claimed the Tories’ Meghan Gallacher. They are “mired in scandal!” said Labour’s Anas Sarwar. Humza awoke. “Not a single idea,” he said of Sarwar’s performance. “Not a single proposal. Completely vacuous from the master of the soundbite.” Yousaf had only soundbites to fight back with – but at least the SNP was now clapping, for it’s when a party’s back is against the wall that it remembers what it stands for. Power. Lovely, gorgeous, reassuring power. Labour wants to work with the Tories, accused Humza. Well, the Tories have given us Brexit, inflation, cuts and, I am sure the evidence will show, the common cold. Plus, it is “brave” for the Conservatives to talk about “propriety” – for “your PM, your deputy PM and your former PM are all under investigation by the standards commission”. True, m’lud, but isn’t that what brings our great Union together? Terrible leadership that blunders from one crisis to the next? After a decade in office, the SNP is exposed for what it really is. It is terribly British.