12 months of turmoil: Humza Yousaf’s rollercoaster year since Nicola Sturgeon quit

One year since Nicola Sturgeon stepped down as leader and first minister, Humza Yousaf has lost a health secretary, multiple MPs and MSPs, and been forced into a number of U-turns.

Since taking over in March 28 last year, he’s also had the trauma of trying to get his in-laws out of besieged Gaza.

And with an investigation into the SNP’s finances still dragging on, the political path ahead could still be treacherous.

Here we take a look back at Humza Yousaf’s tough first 12 months.


April

SNP chief executive Peter Murrell and treasurer Colin Beattie are arrested and later released in connection with a police probe into party finances.

The search of Mr Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon’s home is beamed around the world.

Police prepare to search home of Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell. Image: Stuart Wallace/Shutterstock.

Police later seize a motorhome bought by the SNP, which Humza Yousaf admits he knew nothing about.

Mr Murrell, who is the husband of Nicola Sturgeon, had already quit his role after taking responsibility for the media being misled over SNP membership numbers.

May

We reveal SNP chiefs passed around crucial internal information on shared laptops that couldn’t leave the room as paranoia grew over damaging leaks.

Insiders describe a culture of secrecy in meetings where any questions about party finances were “roadblocked”.

One senior figure even echoes Donald Trump in calling on bosses to “drain the swamp”.

June

Nicola Sturgeon is arrested and released without charge pending further investigation as part of Operation Branchform.

A special party conference to discuss on independence sees Humza Yousaf’s keynote speech interrupted by a former patient of the disgraced Tayside doctor Sam Eljamel.

Humza Yousaf was heckled by one victim of Sam Eljamel. Image: PA.

But even when things get back on track, delegates and even senior party figures are left confused over what exactly had been announced.

In a major embarrassment for the SNP – and its partners in government, the Scottish Greens – it is announced the controversial bottles and cans deposit return scheme “cannot go ahead as currently planned”.

This follows months of warnings from trade that the plan is unworkable as the Scottish Government tried to push out ahead of the UK Government.

July

With the investigation into the SNP’s finances still looming over the party, police confirm the probe has moved beyond the initial reports received by officers.

It is an indication that the investigation is likely to drag on for some time yet – and continue to cast a shadow over Humza Yousaf’s plans.

Meanwhile, the SNP’s deputy leader at Westminster Mhairi Black announces she will stand down as an MP at the next general election.

August

The SNP loses two MPs in quick succession, with Margaret Ferrier first to go after being ousted in a recall petition over her breaches of Covid rules.

Angus MacNeil is then expelled from the party after a row with the chief whip over his attendance at Commons votes. He immediately confirms he will stand against the SNP as an independent.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil. Image: Supplied

Accounts show the SNP made of a loss of more than £800,000 the previous year as income and membership dropped – the second biggest deficit it has ever recorded.

Murray Foote, who resigned as head of communications over the party membership row, becomes chief executive.

September

There are growing signs of discontent as veteran SNP MSP Fergus Ewing is suspended by the party after voting in favour of a motion of no-confidence in Lorna Slater – the government minister responsible for the deposit return scheme.

Ewing is an SNP stalwart and has become something of an unlikely rebel, speaking out against the government’s record on dualling the A9 and deal with the Greens.

October

Humza Yousaf faces a headache going into the SNP’s annual conference, with some senior figures calling on him to re-think the power sharing deal with the Greens.

MSP Lisa Cameron defects to the Tories on the eve of the conference, saying the SNP has a “toxic and bullying” culture.

Dr Lisa Cameron has defected to the Tories. Image: Chris Austin/DC Thomson.

Mr Yousaf agrees to a compromise with critics of his independence strategy. The SNP will now consider winning a majority of Scotland’s Westminster seats at the next general election as a mandate to negotiate independence with the UK Government.

Meanwhile, it is reported WhatsApp messages were routinely deleted by senior government officials during the Covid pandemic.

November

A former SNP minister and senior party figures tell us private emails and secret meetings were used to help Nicola Sturgeon’s government dodge official records.

The SNP categorically denies reports two of its politicians were caught having an affair during lockdown after intimate text messages were discovered by a former partner.

The detailed nature of the claims is damaging for a party which has always presented itself as being less burdened by Westminster sleaze.

December

Completion of the project to dual a stretch of the A9 between Perth and Inverness is delayed by 10 years until 2035.

Delays on the route have sparked anger over a number of years in the Highlands, following a succession of fatal crashes.

Upgrades to the A9 have been continually pushed back. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson.

The design bill has now ballooned to double what has been spent on actual construction.

A staggering £246.7 million – more than half of the total money spent on the project so far – was handed over to cover “preparation costs” including designers.

January

We exclusively reveal the brother-in-law of Humza Yousaf has been charged by police with supplying heroin.

Ramsay El-Nakla is then arrested again in connection to an incident where a man died after falling from a Dundee window. He is later released.

In a further exclusive, we report bereaved families are considering a formal complaint to police after it was revealed WhatsApp messages sent and received by Nicola Sturgeon during the pandemic were deleted.

In a further policy U-turn, Mr Yousaf announces a ban on XL Bully dogs introduced in England and Wales will be replicated here. The decision comes in response to people bringing their banned dogs into Scotland.

February

Health Secretary Michael Matheson resigns ahead of a report into an £11,000 bill that was racked up on his parliamentary iPad by his two sons watching football matches.

Mr Yousaf had repeatedly backed his under-fire health chief but Mr Matheson says he does not want to become a distraction.

Humza Yousaf and Michael Matheson
Humza Yousaf refused to sack Michael Matheson. Image: PA

He now faces being suspended from parliament.

Mr Matheson initially insisted the device had only been used for parliamentary work but later admitted his teenage sons used it to watch football matches while on holiday in Morocco.

March

Mr Matheson faces being suspended from Holyrood after an official inquiry finds he breached two parts of the code of conduct.

After the deposit return scheme fiasco, another flagship piece of legislation – the hate crime bill – proves highly controversial and troubled.

Police Scotland is forced to clarify it will not target comedians and performers when the bill comes into force from April.

The laws say hate can be communicated through public performances, online, or by playing videos.

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