A Tale of Two Ministers – 22 June 2023


The Prime Minister and the First Minister both face issues with predecessors. Neither had a seamless transition into office and the former post-holders cast a long shadow. The contexts are of course vastly different, but I cannot help feeling that Rishi Sunak has handled things far better.

A raft of by-elections is the last thing a beleaguered Prime Minister wants. But equally, it offers an opportunity to put the Boris Johnson era finally to bed. Having Johnson hanging around like a bad smell on the backbenches would have posed endless difficulties. Removing him from the Tory party would have been fraught with dangers. Johnson’s resignation frees him from that.

The by-elections are a problem, as further defeats will compound the sense of a dying administration. But he can blame the losses on events and on others. He’s got the benefit of knowing that every by-election’s expected to be won by Labour or the Lib Dems, so any failures may be seen as a potential Conservative revival.

Sunak will be circumspect in his criticism of Johnson as there’s still considerable support among Tory members, despite the exposure of the man’s complete narcissism. But, other than a recalcitrant few, MPs are rallying to Sunak. Johnson may share characteristics with Trump, but he doesn’t have control over his party in the way the former president has over the Republicans. He’s gone and isn’t coming back. Sunak can now put time and distance between his administration and Johnson’s.

But what of the First Minister? He’s chosen to embrace his predecessor despite the issues now enveloping her. Whatever the outcome of the police investigation, it isn’t going to look good for the senior ranks of her prodigy, the ‘New SNP’. Attempts to portray it as a minor matter, if not triviality, forget the cardinal rule of politics that when you become the issue, you’re the problem.

She was FM, SNP leader and her husband was SNP chief executive. Whatever’s the final outcome, it’s a mess. Humza Yousaf’s adamant he’s his own man but you can’t help feel that if she was to announce that, having recovered her mojo, she was returning, he’d say “of course First Minister, I was only keeping the seat warm”.

It’s his call whether to take any action and it was her behaviour on that score which was disgraceful. Individuals were hunted ruthlessly for far less by her acolytes and with her full knowledge, if not support.

A balanced view on actions to be taken about allegations is one thing. But it’s quite another to embrace her record. If everything in Scotland was as sunny as the recent skies that wouldn’t be a problem, but they’re far from it. Her record’s now being reassessed and that’s before the Covid Inquiry comes along.

To describe her as the best politician in Europe’s not only hyperbole, but imbecilic. She’s being judged not just on education but everything and is being found wanting. Mitigation of austerity was welcome but beyond that there’s little to show. Both Mark Drakeford in Wales and Michelle O’Neil in Northern Ireland have delivered more with less or at least positioned themselves better on constitutional issues.

Choosing not to suspend her is explicable but taking ownership of her record’s political stupidity.