Spirit-sucking struggles are awaiting Scotland’s new leader. The 37-year-old Humza Yousaf has just been thrown into the cesspool of Scotland’s separatist politics. As lofty hopes follow his crowning, he is expected to keep alive his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon’s tradition of striving for Scottish nationalism and separatism. However, Mr Yousaf’s ascendancy to the chair of the first minister of Scotland on 29 March promises to whip up more turbulence for Scottish politics.

The distinction of being the first Asian-Muslim to head a Western democracy may not help matters either. Scotland’s democracy is as complex as any in Europe. Not only the Scottish unicameral legislature is one of the oldest in Europe, it is less European too. The Scottish assembly is less consensual and deeply polarised. This is why Mr Yousaf, Ms Sturgeon’s health secretary, taking over as Scotland’s first minister is not kindling hopes of freedom and independence in Scottish hearts. For them, the secession dream is fading away.

Video Courtesy: YouTube/Al Jazeera English

Incapable of Creating Consensus

As Ms Sturgeon’s dreams of independence seem blurring away, with every passing year, her legacy-inheriting Mr Yousaf will now have a tough time in securing Scotland’s separation. To begin with, Mr Yousaf seems quite incapable of creating consensus over Scotland’s secession and independence from Britain. He may be Scotland’s elected first minister and the new head of the majority Scottish National Party (SNP) now, but he is not in an enviable position. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-64874821

With reason. The conflicts arising from the separatist referendum of 2014 will be too hot to handle for Mr Yousaf. The resulting friction is sure to continue pitching Scotland and the British Westminster government into eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations. At one level, such confrontations have been the contributing factors behind SNP enjoying its majority status today. The party’s core supporters want Scotland’s independence, at any cost. They are ready to voice their demands and exercise their choices in the next referendum.

Nowhere Near Ms Sturgeon

Perhaps, in the next election too. However, the Conservatives (Tories) are against the SNP supporters’ choice. It is in such a polarised atmosphere that Mr Yousaf is taking over as Scotland’s first minister. Mr Yousaf has his challenging task cut out for him. Sure, Mr Yousaf is in for a long struggle. This theory of ‘long struggle ahead for Mr Yousaf’ is fast gaining currency in Scotland and elsewhere in Europe. Mr Yousaf seems least bothered for this simple reason: since the separatist referendum in 2014 and the Brexit referendum in 2016, Scotland’s nationalist movement has been growing in strength.

Much of the credit for this growth goes to Ms Sturgeon. She was the spirit behind persistent pushes for a second referendum. This never-say-die secessionist spirit is set to flag now. Largely because Mr Yousaf does not seem to have the political will for the separtist kill. Plus, Mr Yousaf is nowhere near matching Ms Sturgeon’s passion for drawn-out separatist struggles for independence. Forgt he was Ms Sturgeon’s pick to succeed her and lead SNP through the separatist turbulence, and unarguably her chosen blue-eyed boy. https://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/columnists/nicol-sturgeon-ruled-snp-in-quasi-dictatorial-manner-and-her-resignation-leaves-scottish-independence-movement-adrift-stuart-crawford-4029812

The ‘Humza-Useless’ Moniker

However, Mr Yousaf is nowhere near acquiring Ms Sturgeon’s inimitable spirit of nationalism. Mr Yousaf enjoys a majority within SNP, which is wafer-thin at best and that too in a declining party. Worse, his unenviable majority is largely because of his lacklustre performance as a health and transport minister in Ms Sturgeon’s cabinet. So much so that Mr Yousaf has been caricatured then as ‘Humza Useless’. This moniker was a logical consequence of other factors as well. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/scots-head-for-disaster-with-humza-useless-0rstgjttj

Mr Yousaf’s chief opponent Kate Forbes had outperformed him and she had often railed against mediocrity in the party. Ash Regan, Mr Yousaf’s other competitor, had a lower rating vis-à-vis Ms Sturgeon. Though Mr Yousaf was the worst among the lot, he rode to victory surprisingly on serious constitutional concerns. Essentially, Mr Yousaf thus suffers a popularity-deficit. This is sure to reflect in his inability to sustain Scotland’s separatist struggle to fulfil the aspirations of the Scottish people.

Sapping Mr Yousaf’s Strength

No wonder, Mr Yousaf has turbulence lying ahead of him in his new job. He will find it difficult to represent his party in its entirety, stand for all and speak for everyone. He may not muster the courage to speak in one voice for the entire SNP family. Bad luck for Mr Yousaf, his policies too are not popular among SNP loyalists. For instance, his promise of raising taxes do not have many takers in the party. His love for gender-recognition reforms are detested by almost all partymen. He does have many policy-enemies. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2023/mar/10/snp-continue-sturgeon-progressive-agenda-humza-yousaf

As SNP satraps continue worrying over declining membership in the party, many of them may resign soon from their official positions in the coming days. Such dampeners are sure to sap Mr Yousaf’s strength further, with hurtful implications for Mr Yousaf’s political career as Scotland’s first minister. Thus, Mr Yousaf has no option, but to hold the separatist flag of independence high to save his chair. Yet, Mr Yousaf will not be able to do so. There will still be major roadblocks on the way.

Scenario of Serious Stoppers

Among them, the most formidable is the veto the British government enjoys over a new referendum. How does Mr Yousaf propose to get around this British veto to steer Scotland ahead towards independence? The road to independence is increasingly perilous. The passage to separatism is dotted with numerous speed bumps. On the top of it, Mr Yousaf is not comfortably positioned in the driver’s seat, as he remains caught between the SNP devil and the electoral deep sea.

In such a disheartening scenario, Mr Yousaf will need a ‘sustained majority’ to reach the destination of secession and independence. Sadly, he does not have that sort of majority now. Frustrated, Mr Yousaf may decide to shelve his people-led separatist campaign for Scotland and urge Britain to hold the referendum at once. The possibility of Rishi Sunak, the British prime minister, acceding to such a request is highly improbable. https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/1751566/rishi-sunak-humza-yousaf-scotland-independence

Sensing a Vacant Separatist Space

All these killjoy factors are sure to sap the spirits of independence-loving Scots. If Mr Yousaf tries to slacken the separatist urge of the Scottish people, the SNP is sure to lose its most bankable USP. The party’s hardcore campaign-monopoly over separatism and independence will end at once. The campaign of separatism and independence will be happily appropriated then by the many disparate fringe parties, who are hungering for a winnable electoral weapon.

Losing no time, the separatist space vacated by the SNP will be filled by hungering rival groups. Consider Alex Salmond, a former SNP activist, for instance. He has been thirsting to avenge his sidelining. Seeing a vacant separatist space, Mr Salmond is sure to rush in to emerge as SNP’s major threat. Plus, a vulnerable SNP will be a god-sent opportunity, also for the Conservative Party, which is sure to raise the decibel levels on its anti-referendum approach. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/03/08/without-alex-salmond-nicola-sturgeon-snp-completely-lost/

The Dreaming Labour Leaders

Delighted, the Conservative Party leaders will go on then to step up their propaganda. They will go around saying denial of independence to Scotland will not end in a major damage and secession is an inconsequential issue. This is an avoidable drama. In such a melee, SNP will be the loser. By then, it would have lost its most winnable separatist agenda, its most powerful weapon and its much-trumpeted status as Scotland’s saviour party. Unrealistically, the Labour Party leaders, who will be the real winners then, have already begun dreaming about such a sweet possibility.

For the Labour Party, such a scenario would be a dream-come-true moment. For a simple reason. Despite the brouhaha over nationalism and separatism, labour unions consider the Scottish economy in general, and its healthcare sector in particular, as the most material issues. Separatism is low down, probably the last, on their list. Thus, if the SNP wants to reign, it has to work out Labour-friendly policies, fusing their concerns into its nationalist-separatist agenda. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/mar/29/this-is-how-labour-can-win-back-scotland-and-achieve-a-majority-uk-government

In Conclusion

Is this too much to ask from Mr Yousaf? This needs to be answered in counter-questions. Will the hardcore backers of SNP prevail on Mr Yousaf to pick a Labour government to Westminster to get the Tories out of their way? Will Mr Yousaf get persuaded to prioritise social change over the yet-to-materialise distant independence? Will Mr Yousaf dilute further the spirit of separatism to win popular elections?

Though there are no surefire answers to these, Mr Yousaf’s situation is unenviable. Clearly, Mr Yousaf is caught between nationalistic separatism and the urge to stifle party divisions to win elections with inclusive keep-all-happy policies. Any which way you look at it, Mr Yousaf will find it impossible to replicate Ms Sturgeon’s record of eight electoral wins since 2014. As Scottish independence looks more distant than before, Mr Yousaf looks more like the new Alice in the Wonderland of Scottish separatism.