May 26th, 2024

Scotland’s leader resigns as he struggles to win support for weakened government

By Danica Kirka, The Associated Press on April 29, 2024.

FILE - The then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, center, and Scottish Green Party co-leaders Patrick Harvie, left, and Lorna Slater at Bute House, Edinburgh, Scotland, after the finalisation of an agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens to share power in Scotland. Scotland’s leader Humza Yousaf is facing a week of high-stakes talks to save his job and reenergize the country’s independence movement after he torpedoed a coalition with the Green Party by ditching a target for fighting climate change. (Jeff J Mitchell/PA via AP, File)

LONDON (AP) – Scotland’s first minister, Humza Yousaf, has resigned rather than face a no-confidence vote just days after he torpedoed a coalition with the Green Party by ditching a target for fighting climate change.

Yousaf, whose Scottish National Party has been weakened by a campaign finance scandal and divisions over transgender rights, stepped down after failing to strike a deal with a breakaway nationalist party whose single seat could have given him a majority in Scotland’s devolved regional parliament.

With no prospect of victory, Yousaf on Monday quit rather than face defeat later this week when Scottish lawmakers were scheduled to vote on motions of no confidence in Yousaf and his government.

The debacle in Scotland adds to the fevered political climate in the broader United Kingdom, where concerns about immigration, health care and government spending have undermined support for the ruling Conservative Party.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

LONDON (AP) – Scotland’s leader is under pressure to resign as he struggles to engineer a deal to rescue his government after he torpedoed a coalition with the Green Party by ditching a key target for fighting climate change.

First Minister Humza Yousaf, whose Scottish National Party has been weakened by a campaign finance scandal and divisions over transgender rights, is scrambling to win the support of a breakaway nationalist party whose one seat in the Scottish parliament would allow him to survive a no-confidence vote later this week.

The crisis began earlier this month when Yousaf jettisoned Scotland’s goal of cutting carbon emissions by 75% by 2030, then ended a coalition agreement with the Greens and unceremoniously kicked the party’s two representatives out of his Cabinet. Yousaf has scheduled a news conference for noon local time (1100 GMT) in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, where he is expected to resign, the BBC reported.

“Hurt egos have destroyed countries before now, so it’s not exactly surprising that they are currently leading to the mess we’re in,” Murray Pittock, an expert on Scottish nationalism at the University of Glasgow, told The Associated Press. “And you can’t hurt people’s egos any more than by chucking them straight out of ministerial office with no warning and their entire party with them.”

The debacle in Scotland adds to the fevered political climate in the broader United Kingdom, where concerns about immigration, health care and government spending have undermined support for the ruling Conservative Party.

The Tories and the main opposition Labour Party have each proposed a no-confidence motion in Yousaf and his government as they seek to weaken the SNP before a U.K.-wide parliamentary election expected to take place later this year. On Thursday, England and Wales will hold local elections that are seen as a barometer of support for the government.

In an effort to save his government, Yousaf had written to all of the party leaders asking for separate meetings to discuss their concerns “in a hopefully constructive spirit.”

But the tight electoral math in Scotland means that Yousaf’s fate hinges on the upstart Alba Party, which holds just one seat in the Scottish Parliament. The SNP has 63 of the 128 voting lawmakers, leaving Yousaf one vote short of what he needs to eke out a victory.

Founded in 2021 by former SNP leader and First Minister Alex Salmond, Alba sees itself as the true voice of Scottish independence. Alba’s only member of the Scottish Parliament is Ash Regan, who opposed Yousaf in the last SNP leadership election before defecting to Alba.

As the price of its support for the government, Alba is demanding that Yousaf put independence at the top of his agenda, move away from divisive “identity politics” and focus on issues such as jobs, education and investment in Scottish industry.

Salmond said on Sunday that he was hoping for a “positive outcome” from the talks, but Alba’s leaders would be meeting to get ready for an election in case things don’t work out.

“We have, obviously, to prepare that things don’t work out, in which case there could be an election in Scotland,” he told the BBC.

Alba’s central role in the crisis is symbolic of the disarray confronting Scotland’s independence movement a decade after voters rejected the SNP’s plan to sever ties with the U.K.

Yousaf became the leader of the SNP and first minister of Scotland in March 2023 after former leader Nicola Sturgeon stepped down, citing the toll more than eight years in office had taken on her.

Sturgeon’s resignation came amid a police investigation into allegations that the party had misused money donated to fund a second independence referendum.

Sturgeon was questioned and released without being charged last June. Her husband, former SNP treasurer Peter Murrell, was charged with embezzlement earlier this month. Both deny any wrongdoing in the case.

Support for the SNP also declined after the party backed legislation to make it easier for people to change their gender, and implemented a hate crime law that made transgender identity a protected characteristic, even though the same protections weren’t given to all women.

Then came Yousaf’s decision to scrap the 2030 target for greenhouse gas reductions.

Although he said Scotland would still achieve its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, the decision sparked tensions with his coalition partners. The Green Party initially backed the change, but party leaders said they would poll the broader membership and reverse course if necessary.

Last Thursday, Yousaf decided to end the coalition abruptly.

Labour is the biggest beneficiary of the ructions within the SNP, because both parties support left-leaning policies on issues such as worker rights and government spending. That has huge implications for this year’s general election as Labour tries to wrest control of the U.K. Parliament from the Conservatives.

The Labour vote in Scotland dropped to 18.6% in the 2019 general election from 45.6% in 1997. During the same period, support for the SNP jumped to 45% from 22.1%. Labour currently has just one member of Parliament from Scotland, compared with 43 for the SNP.

An early election in Scotland could help Labour build momentum for its U.K.-wide general election campaign, Pittock said.

“The other side to the big picture is that pragmatism is really important in politics,” Pittock said. “Populism, virtue signaling, ideology, ideologically driven legislation – all of these things have a real price, and Scotland is currently paying it.”

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Find more of AP’s Europe coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/europe

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