One of the unkind comments about Humza Yousaf’s government program on Tuesday came from Douglas Ross.
The Scottish Tory leader, not famous for his wit, nonetheless achieved tangible success when he branded the First Minister a “poor Nicola Sturgeon tribute act”.
“There was nothing new about the man or his ideas, just more of the same,” sighed Mr Ross.
In Mr. Yousaf’s defense, it is difficult for the government to pull off a sudden exit mid-term.
In fact, two and a half years after the election, one would expect the Holyrood election to be rather unspectacular and deliver on what they promised voters in 2021.
No doubt Mr. Yousaf would have liked to have been more prominent in his first PfG party, but he was elected on the same SNP manifesto as his predecessor and must therefore continue with what she started.
If he crowded Holyrood’s legislative timetable with his own plans, other promises would take a back seat, leading to a different kind of criticism.
The commitments made to the Scottish Greens in the Bute House Agreement further restricted the First Minister’s room for manoeuvre.
Anyone looking for new ideas will have to wait until the next Holyrood campaign.
However, Mr. Yousaf remains free to differentiate himself from Ms. Sturgeon in other ways.
The former First Minister was a master at not fully answering the question.
Before becoming a politician she was a lawyer and her legal training ensured that a caveat was always thrown into the mix, leaving a bit of leeway in case it was needed later.
You’d think she’s committed to something, but if you read the lyrics carefully, you realize that “probably” or “maybe” could let her off the hook.
Under extreme pressure, Ms Sturgeon was also prone to bouts of amnesia and could not remember what was most likely to have embarrassed her.
When he replaced her in the spring, Mr. Yousaf was different: open, approachable, without make-up.
Of course, that was good for journalists. But it was also good for life in Holyrood in general.
Unfortunately, Mr Yousaf appeared on BBC Radio Scotland on Wednesday to speak about his PfG and gave extremely mean replies.
Asked why the SNP ended 2022 more than £800,000 in deficit, he said it was “hardly a surprise to see political parties running a deficit in an election year”.
However, this ignored the fact that the elections were for Scottish local councils and that parties, including the SNP, spend far less on them than they do on general elections.
The SNP spent £760,000 campaigning in 2022 but £1.65m in 2021 and £1.56m in 2019, the years of the Holyrood and Westminster elections.
However, although the SNP’s spending fell significantly, its finances were worse than in those years.
The reason for the size of the deficit in 2022, the second-worst on record for the SNP, was a collapse in membership and dues, and a long-term fundraising drought.
Mr Yousaf has also deceived by omission when asked why the government has reversed the expansion of free school meals for sixth and seventh graders.
“We didn’t back down,” he said. “It’s wrong to say so.”
Recalling that it was supposed to happen in 2022 but was now scheduled for 2026, he said: “No. If you remember the manifesto we stood on, we didn’t commit to that. We are committed to introducing universal free school meals by the end of the P6 and P7 term.”
unspun | Can Humza Yousaf’s government program quell his critics and unite the SNP?
The manifesto does not give a date, although a date before 2026 is obviously implied.
However, the government announced dates – only to change them again and again if it could not implement its policies in time.
The 2021 PfG, which was released six months after the SNP manifesto, says, “Starting August 2022, we will fund free lunches for all elementary school students.” It didn’t happen.
In his budget statement last December, then-Treasury Secretary John Swinney told Parliament that there would be “universal coverage in primary schools from August 2024”.
That didn’t happen either.
Now the date has slipped again, but instead of admitting it, Mr. Yousaf pointed to the only document in this farce that is missing a date, the SNP manifesto.
He later denied it was a shoddy move, but that just added another shoddy denial to his tally.
If he wants to avoid being a Sturgeon tribute act, he should ditch the tricks and come clean.
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