Humza Yousaf begs SNP to end obsession with independence 'process'

Humza Yousaf begs SNP activists to end obsession with independence ‘process’, admits there is not yet a ‘sustained majority’ for splitting the UK and woos Scots with council tax freeze… as Nicola Sturgeon gets ANOTHER ovation during his conference speech

Humza Yousaf pleaded with SNP activists to end their obsession with the independence ‘process’ today as he tried to rally the party in his conference speech.

The Scottish First Minister warned supporters they must ‘concentrate not on the how but on the why’ to bolster the flagging separatist dream.

He admitted that more work is needed to build a ‘sustainable majority’ for splitting the UK. 

After a gathering blighted by internal wrangling, Mr Yousaf tried to shift to focus to policy by promising to spend an extra £100million a year on the NHS in Scotland – saying the cash could slash waiting lists.

He declared that council tax will be frozen north of the border next year and complained that Westminster – rather than Covid or the Ukraine war – was to blame for the cost of living crisis.

However, the SNP’s leader problems were underlined when his mention of Nicola Sturgeon resulted in her second standing ovation in two days. His predecessor was arrested and released pending further inquiries by police investigating the SNP’s finances earlier this year.   

Humza Yousaf pleaded with SNP activists to tone down their obsession with forcing an independence referendum today

The SNP’s leader problems were underlined when his mention of Nicola Sturgeon resulted in her second standing ovation in two days

Mr Yousaf has conceded he will only push the referendum issue if the separatists win more than half of Scottish seats at the election – far from guaranteed following a slide in the polls

Mr Yousaf was upstaged at conference yesterday as Nicola Sturgeon made a dramatic appearance

The address in Aberdeen comes after Mr Yousaf conducted another U-turn in a bid to quell bitter internal wrangling about how to purse the independence dream.

Ms Sturgeon previously vowed to make the next general election a de facto referendum on breaking up the UK, after the Supreme Court ruled she did not have power to hold one without permission from Westminster.  

When he took over Mr Yousaf indicated that he would declare a mandate for independence if the SNP won more Scottish seats than anyone else at the election. 

But as he scrambled to defuse the issue earlier his week Mr Yousaf conceded he will only push the issue if the separatists win more than half of seats – far from guaranteed following a slide in the polls and a stinging defeat in the Rutherglen by-election.

There will be 57 MPs in Scotland following boundary changes, making the threshold 29, far fewer than the 48 the SNP secured in 2019.

‘At our conference on Sunday we decided – together – on the process for winning our country’s independence,’ he said. 

‘This was a very important debate. But if I can be so bold, in a room full of committed independence supporters – it is not process arguments that will achieve our goal.

‘Around half of our fellow Scots already support independence. I have no doubt that we can turn that half into a sustained majority. And we will do so when we concentrate not on the how – but on the why.’ 

Mr Yousaf tempered his warning about the obsession with process by stressing that he is adding the words ‘independence for Scotland’ next to the SNP’s entry on ballot papers for the election next year. There had been concerns that will kill attempts to persuade pro-Union voters that they will stand up for the whole of Scotland. 

‘At the next election, page one, line one of our manifesto will say ‘Vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country’.

‘And that’s because independence is about building a better Scotland.

‘It’s about raising living standards. It’s about protecting our NHS. Above all, it’s about a stronger economy. An economy that works for everyone who lives here.’

Mr Yousaf also swiped at Home Secretary Suella Braverman over ‘dog whistle’ warnings on immigration, insisting it made him more determined to win independence. 

The Scottish Government had opened a consultation which could see council tax on the highest bands increased by between 7.5 per cent and 22.5 per cent.

The move was intended to fill the growing black hole in the country’s finances, which is significantly bigger than the rest of the UK. 

However, addressing the P&J Live Arena in Aberdeen on Tuesday for the first time as leader, Mr Yousaf scrapped the plans.

‘We have consulted on what level the council tax should be next year,’ he said.

‘And conference, we have reached our decision.

‘I can announce to the people of Scotland that, next year, your council tax will be frozen.

‘That’s the SNP delivering for people when they need it the most.’

The leader announced that the Scottish government will be issuing its own bond – a method of borrowing – for the first time. 

The powers to issue bonds for capital investment in infrastructure have been in place since legislation was passed in 2016, limited to £450million a year and £3billion in total.

Mr Yousaf said the plan would be ‘subject of course to due diligence and market testing’ and would enable the Scottish Government to fund ‘vital infrastructure’ such as affordable housing.

He said: ‘In doing so, we will show the world not only that we are a country to invest in today – we will also demonstrate the credibility to international markets that we will need when we become an independent country.’

Tory sources pointed out that previously the bonds had not been viewed as a ‘cost-effective’ option, and questioned whether now would be the ‘right time’ given bond market yields are at high levels. 

Mr Yousaf was upstaged at conference yesterday as an emotional Ms Sturgeon made an appearance, getting a rapturous reception from the party faithful.

In his speech today, he credited Ms Sturgeon with ‘delivering’ for Scotland – sparking another standing ovation in the hall.

‘Nicola Sturgeon transformed Scotland. She reformed Scotland’s public services. She improved the life chances of thousands of Scotland’s young people,’ he said. 

‘And we will never forget that in the toughest of times our country faced, Nicola was the calmest of voices and the coolest of heads. So for all of this and more, we say thank you Nicola.’ 

The former First Minister insisted yesterday that her presence was ‘not at all’ a distraction for Mr Yousaf, saying he is ‘doing a fantastic job’ as leader.

She added: ‘I don’t think there is any doubt, from what I’ve seen, about who is in charge of this conference – it’s Humza Yousaf.’

The SNP were dealt a shattering blow earlier this month as Labour overturned a majority of more than 5,000 to seize Rutherglen by a margin of 9,400

The former First Minister said she has not spoken to police again since her arrest as part of the police probe into the SNP, where she was subsequently released without charge pending further investigation.

She said the atmosphere at the conference had been ‘absolutely fantastic’ despite the main hall getting exchanged for a smaller room at The Event Complex Aberdeen, and the capacity being reduced to 1,200.

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: ‘Humza Yousaf may have publicly said he was delighted to see his predecessor turn up in Aberdeen, but privately he must find it utterly galling that she’s stealing the limelight away from him.

‘He’s finding himself having to pick up the pieces of the divided party she left behind.’

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