SNP civil war rages after Humza Yousaf tries to demote Kate Forbes

SNP civil war rages after Humza Yousaf tries to demote Kate Forbes

March 29, 2023

SNP civil war rages after Humza Yousaf tries to demote narrowly-defeated leadership rival Kate Forbes – but she tells him to ‘stick it’ and quits

The SNP civil war ramped up today after Humza Yousaf effectively sacked leadership rival Kate Forbes. 

The incoming Scottish First Minister was accused of ‘pouring petrol’ on the party by only offering Ms Forbes a huge demotion to the Rural Affairs brief.

The Finance Secretary, who lost by a narrow 52 per cent to 48 per cent margin, reportedly told him ‘where to stick it’. Ms Forbes has now announced that she will not be serving in Mr Yousaf’s administration, although she insisted she will still support him at Holyrood. 

In a further move likely to stoke divisions, Mr Yousaf appointed the minister who railroaded controversial gender reforms through parliament as his deputy.

Shona Robison was handed the key role within minutes of Mr Yousaf being formally confirmed as First Minister after a vote by MSPs.

Mr Yousaf will be officially sworn in at the Court of Session later, taking his oath to the King.  

Humza Yousaf was accused of ‘pouring petrol’ on the party by only offering leadership rival Kate Forbes a huge demotion to the Rural Affairs brief

Ms Forbes has now announced that she will not be serving in Mr Yousaf’s administration, although she insisted she will still support him at Holyrood

In a dramatic first full day as SNP leader, Mr Yousaf demanded the power to hold an independence referendum during a call with Rishi Sunak. The Prime Minister turned this down.

Ms Forbes held initial talks with Mr Yousaf shortly after the result of the contest was announced on Monday. It is understood he then offered her the job of Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands during discussions at St Andrew’s House, the Scottish Government’s HQ, yesterday morning.

Ms Forbes turned this down during further talks in the Scottish parliament at around 5.30pm last night.

Following the nomination of Mr Yousaf as First Minister, as the votes of MSPs were being counted, he walked to the back row of the Holyrood chamber where Ms Forbes was seated and warmly embraced her.

Ms Forbes also spoke at an SNP group meeting at around 4pm yesterday, where she is said to have received warm applause from MSPs after making a speech about how the party had to come together as one team.

It is understood that Ash Regan, who finished in third place in the leadership contest, did not attend.

A source close to Mr Yousaf said: ‘They discussed [Ms Forbes] potentially being in government, they discussed a role and she said she did not wish to take up that role.’

A source in Ms Forbes’s leadership campaign said: ‘Kate spoke with Humza, let him know she did not wish to be considered for a Cabinet position at this time and will support the Government from the backbenches.

‘It was amicable and Kate wishes Humza well as he puts his Cabinet together. Kate is also a mum of a young family.’

However, another source told the Scottish Sun: ‘She told him where to stick it.’  

Last night, Ms Forbes tweeted that she was ‘delighted’ to have voted for Mr Yousaf to be First Minister, saying: ‘He has my full support.’

She said it was to his ‘great credit’ that the first official conversation he had after the result was with her, adding: ‘He has been respectful, warm and supportive throughout. In whatever capacity I serve, I’ll support him.’

Ex SNP minister Alex Neil described the offer to Ms Forbes as an ‘insult’. 

During the bitter leadership campaign, Ms Forbes branded Mr Yousaf the ‘continuity candidate’ but said more of the same would be accepting mediocrity. 

She also trashed his record in government, telling him: ‘When you were transport minister, the trains were never on time, when you were justice minister, police were strained to breaking point, and now as health minister we’ve got record high waiting times. What makes you think you can do a better job as First Minister?’

Ms Forbes also heavily criticised a series of SNP Government policies, including gender reform, the Deposit Return Scheme and a proposed crackdown on alcohol advertising.

Within minutes of being approved by MSPs as First Minister, Mr Yousaf announced that he would appoint Ms Robison as Deputy First Minister.

As the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill [GRR] progressed through parliament, Ms Robison rejected calls for additional safeguards such as ensuring sex offenders and people awaiting trial for rape would not be able to take advantage of the system.

She also launched an attack on Ms Forbes during the leadership campaign over the then-finance secretary’s position on abortion as a member of the Free Church of Scotland. Asked if she would have to think long and hard about serving in a Forbes government, she said: ‘Yes, I would.’

Speaking to journalists immediately after leaving the Holyrood chamber for the first time as First Minister, Mr Yousaf said: ‘I’m very pleased to tell you that Shona Robison has agreed to be my Deputy First Minister, which I’m delighted about, and she and I are about to go up and finalise some of our Cabinet appointments.’

He added: ‘Kate is exceptionally talented, and of course I would want her to be part of the Government.’

Mr Yousaf said he had not spoken to Ms Regan about a government job.

Ms Robison, one of Nicola Sturgeon’s close friends, quit as health secretary in 2018 following months of criticism. In 2021 she was given the post of social justice secretary, which put her in charge of the GRR Bill at Holyrood.

The legislation sparked the biggest rebellion since the SNP came to power, with nine of its MSPs voting against.

Ms Robison said it was still to be decided whether she would have another government role in addition to the Deputy First Minister post.

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: ‘On day one as First Minister, Humza Yousaf has poured petrol on the SNP civil war.

Nicola Sturgeon was on hand at Holyrood to watch Mr Yousaf being confirmed as First Minister yesterday

‘Kate Forbes’s furious snub to his offer of a Cabinet demotion shows his mission to reunite their feuding party is doomed to failure.

‘It makes a mockery of his claim only yesterday that ‘we are no longer team Humza, or team Ash, or team Kate, we are one team’. 

‘Having come within a whisker of beating him to the role of First Minister, Kate Forbes clearly views this offer as an insult.

‘The reality is the SNP are divided from top to bottom. And, as they concentrate on knocking lumps out of each other, they are unable to focus on the real priorities of the Scottish people.’

He added: ‘Shona Robison’s reward for railroading the hated Gender Reform Bill through the Scottish parliament is to be appointed as Humza Yousaf’s right-hand woman. This is the surest sign yet that he is doubling down on his plans to ignore the valid concerns of women and girls by seeking another constitutional court battle with the UK Government.’

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