Normally when this column covers the travails of the Scottish National Party, Humza Yousaf’s personal shortcomings as a politician are more an incidental punchline than the point.
Whilst he isn’t a highly-esteemed political operator by any metric, most of the mounting pile of problems on his desk – Labour drawing neck-and-neck in the polls, the dire state of his party’s finances, the ongoing police investigation into the same – are problems that long predate his entry into Bute House.
But this week, it looks as if he might have engineered a scandal all of his very own. The First Minister stands accused of getting civil servants to retroactively produce statistics in order to rebut allegations that he misled the Scottish Parliament. From the Herald:
“The First Minister wrongly told FMQs in June that Scotland has the majority of the UK’s renewables and natural resources, when in fact it has around a quarter of capacity. When challenged by Tory MSP Liam Kerr about his claim, Mr Yousaf replied two months later in a letter saying he had “intended to say ‘per capita’” resources.
“However heavily redacted material released under freedom of information suggests Mr Yousaf couldn’t have known the per capita figure at the time, as his officials hadn’t produced one.”
Now Alex Cole-Hamilton, a Liberal Democrat MSP, has urged Yousaf to refer himself for investigation over a possible breach of the ministerial code, on the basis that a “reverse-engineered” excuse may actually constitute a further misleading of Holyrood.
Honour and glory must be shared with These Islands, the pro-Union campaign group. As the Herald reports, the paper trail for Cole-Hamilton’s allegation arose after TI challenged the First Minister’s wildly-exaggerated claims about Scotland’s renewable energy potential and the theoretical impact of independence on household bills:
“Internal Scottish Government correspondence released to the pro-Union These Islands group shows that officials asked someone to “dig out” the relevant figures within 30 minutes.
“Later that afternoon, the reply came back that Scotland had 26% of UK renewable capacity and 26% of generation in 2022, not the majority Mr Yousaf had claimed. The next day, officials added in future renewable projects under construction and in planning, raising the Scotland figure to 36%.
“It was not until July 3 that an official circulated a table including per capita figures, which gave Scotland 651.6GWh per 100,000 people, by far the highest for any part of the UK.”
Speaking at a rally, the First Minister made the case that Ireland and Denmark illustrated how smaller European countries could deliver lower energy bills. But as the Times notes in a detailed write-up, neither country actually enjoyed lower per-unit energy costs than Scotland last year.
(They also point out that of the countries that do offer lower prices, Norway has extraordinarily favourable geography and France has given nuclear a much larger role in its generation mix. The Scottish Government, of course, has pledged to block any new nuclear power plants in Scotland.)
So far, so embarrassing. But what’s especially concerning is that Yousaf’s nonsense figures were, per the Times, “based on a document published by the Scottish government last year on building a case for an independent Scotland”; the Herald’s coverage shows officials likewise bending over backwards to try and make his sums add up.
This touches on something else I wrote about back in July, and which the Government is finally (belatedly) looking into: the use of civil servants to manufacture the case for breaking up the United Kingdom – and thus, lending spurious credibility to nonsense campaign propaganda by publishing it as official material. Simon Case is reportedly on the case; he’d best get a move on.
P.S. Meanwhile, the mountain of governance failures just keeps growing. Thanks to Nicola Sturgeon’s crackdown on the private rented sector, Scotland apparently now has the fastest-growing rents in the country – even higher than London!