Humza Yousaf says it's impossible to 'sugarcoat' party's civil war
SNP leadership frontrunner Humza Yousaf admits it is impossible to ‘sugarcoat’ the party’s punishing civil war as candidates clash at hustings in Glasgow
- Humza Yousaf said the last 72 hours in particular had been ‘extremely difficult’
- It came 24 hours after SNP president Mr Russell said things had gone wrong
- The three candidates rowed over tax policies and declining SNP memberships
Humza Yousaf last night admitted it was impossible to ‘sugarcoat’ just how punishing the civil war splitting the SNP has become.
The leadership candidate said the previous 72 hours in particular had been ‘extremely difficult’ and the damaged party needed a refresh.
It came just 24 hours after SNP president Michael Russell admitted that things had gone spectacularly wrong and the party was in a ‘tremendous mess’.
The divisions were on full display in the latest clashes between the three leadership candidates at a hustings in Glasgow last night.
Ash Regan, Kate Forbes and Mr Yousaf rowed over tax policies and the disastrous slump in SNP membership at the event hosted by radio station LBC.
Humza Yousaf last night admitted it was impossible to ‘sugarcoat’ just how punishing the civil war splitting the SNP has become. Pictured: SNP leadership candidates, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes, during a SNP leadership hustings
Ms Regan lashed out at her rivals who had ‘ridiculed’ her calls for an overhaul of the party. She also suggested Nicola Sturgeon’s hated gender reforms were to blame for the haemorrhaging membership.
The former minister said the chaos reflected her warnings about the culture within the SNP and claimed she was the ‘only hope for the party at this juncture’.
SNP bosses caved to pressure last week to end their secrecy over membership numbers and revealed more than 50,000 had deserted since 2019, with a plunge of around 30,000 since last December. It means 72,186 people are eligible to vote in the contest to succeed Ms Sturgeon
Frontrunner Mr Yousaf insisted he would ‘get in amongst the weeds and understand why we lost those members’.
But Ms Regan argued that the decline was likely driven by ‘a lack of perceived progress on the independence question and also the gender recognition reform’.
The belated release of the figures exposed the rapid membership decline but also proved the catalyst for two high-profile resignations within the party machine.
Communications director Murray Foote quit, having previously briefed that the membership was over 100,000 and having described stories saying the number had fallen as ‘drivel’.
His bombshell resignation statement declared that he had been misled by party officials about the true situation, piling pressure on SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – Ms Sturgeon’s husband –who finally announced his resignation on Saturday.
Ash Regan, Kate Forbes and Mr Yousaf rowed over tax policies and the disastrous slump in SNP membership at the event hosted by radio station LBC. Pictured: (left to right) SNP leadership candidates, Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes
It came after the resignation of Liz Lloyd, the First Minister’s senior adviser, following complaints about her involvement in Mr Yousaf’s leadership campaign.
At last night’s debate, Ms Regan said: ‘The events over the weekend have borne out some of the points that I’ve been making over the last couple of weeks. I’m the only candidate that started off saying I wanted a fresh direction, because I thought we had issues in the party.
‘Some of my fellow candidates ridiculed me and said that I was ridiculous, that there was no need to change – everything was fine.
‘We can see through the events over the weekend, with the very high-profile resignations in the party, that things are not fine.’
Reiterating her call for SNP members to be able to change their vote in the leadership contest following the chaotic past week, she suggested there was ‘a significant amount of voter regret out there’ among those who had backed Mr Yousaf as the ‘continuity candidate’.
The Health Secretary responded: ‘We absolutely need to refresh, reframe and re-energise.
‘That has to happen regardless of who becomes the SNP leader. Yes, the last 72 hours in particular have been incredibly difficult for the party. Let’s not sugarcoat it.’
Frontrunner Mr Yousaf insisted he would ‘get in amongst the weeds and understand why we lost those members’
Ms Regan added: ‘I imagined the party perhaps does keep data on the reasons people give when they relinquish their membership, but my assessment was that it is down to a lack of perceived progress on the independence question and gender recognition reform (GRR).
‘The statistics do seem to bear that out – we lost about 31,000 around about the time of the stage-one GRR vote last year until now.’
Later in the debate, Ms Forbes defended her pledge not to impose any more income tax rises if she becomes First Minister.
The Finance Secretary also insisted there should be no further widening of the tax gap with the rest of the UK, suggesting it would cause an exodus of taxpayers.
From next month, the higher rate of income tax will rise to 42p in the pound in Scotland and the top rate will rise to 47p – a decision made by Deputy First Minister John Swinney who was standing in while she was on maternity leave.
Ms Forbes said: ‘It is well accepted that if the divergence with the rest of the UK is too profound, you jeopardise that revenue that’s coming in.
‘You can support progressive taxation, make the case for more tax powers, and also recognise that, unfortunately, with devolution, you want to make sure you’re using the tax powers well to increase the tax base and actually maximise your revenue.’
‘I would rule out any further divergence with the rest of the UK.’
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