If Humza Yousaf’s Programme for Government was supposed to be an object lesson in expectation management, on that measure alone it was a spectacular failure.
It was to be the moment when he stamped his personality on the SNP Green government, where he would distance himself from the business-averse Sturgeon era and, we were assured by the ever-loyal Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray that it would contain more initiatives to support Scotland’s companies.
But if there is one thing Mr Yousaf can deliver it’s an anti-climax, and last Tuesday that was one expectation met with interest. For what was supposed to be a re-set, a chance to give the last three years of this parliament a badly-needed shot in the arm, by the end of the week only the most committed SNP-Green followers could remember what he said because it amounted to so little.
The news agenda moved on to his predecessor’s speech the following day, and then the reaction focussed on Nicola Sturgeon’s staggering brass neck and the yawning gap where her self-awareness should have been. Instead, we had another lecture on how the tone of politics had to change, with only the most grudging suggestion that the bitterness to which Scottish politics had descended might have had something to do with the person who personified the SNP Government in the previous eight years, which culminated in the vicious denouncement of opponents as bigots and a declaration of how much she detested the main opposition.
So what did the Programme for Government contain? Nothing much by way of real targets and policies with measurable outcomes to lift the Scottish economy out of the doldrums, just vague noises about unleashing innovation and entrepreneurial talent without the faintest clue about how this great potential was going to be tapped.
Perhaps we were expecting too much, with all the unfinished business from Nicola Sturgeon’s sudden retreat in March, with some 27 commitments in last year’s Programme for Government unfulfilled, most notably the failure to honour the repeated promise to provide free school breakfasts and lunches to every primary school pupil in Scotland. That will now not be met until 2026 if it’s ever implemented at all.
And there is the small matter of the legislation still wending its way through Holyrood, including the disastrous Circular Economy Bill and the botched deposit return scheme, the National Care Service Bill which is widely recognised as a £1bn disaster in the making which will wreck what’s left of the system, and the Regulation of Legal Services Bill which has unified the entire legal profession in opposition to what is a political assault on the independence of the legal system.
So what did Mr Yousaf promise? An education bill to reform the exam system which has already been roundly criticised as inadequate, electoral reform which will change nothing, housing rent controls which will wreck the market, a plan to force education authorities to deliver more Gaelic medium education when there aren’t enough teachers to give lessons in English. And then there is a misogyny bill which could end up being another row over freedom of expression, the one thing on which Mr Yousaf does seem particularly keen.
It wasn’t so much a programme for government, but a programme for mediocrity peppered with the same old divisiveness and undeliverability which will make not a jot of difference to the failing services for which the SNP and Greens are responsible.
For all the good the proposed new bills will do, Mr Yousaf would have earned more plaudits if he’s said there would be no new legislation and the existing dog’s breakfast would be abandoned so every minister could every second of their time focusing on improving our services; bringing down spiralling hospital waiting lists, improving educational outcomes, delivering promised road improvements to a proper timetable, and streamlining regulation and planning to get the economy going and houses built.
And if he’d done that, he really would have put his stamp on this government, but he didn’t. Once again, he proved he’s really just a big Chief Mammy’s boy.