Why Did Humza Yousaf Resign? And What Happens Next?

The SNP's 20-year rule is looking very shaky.
Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf arrives to announce his resignation during a statement, at Bute House, in Edinburgh, on April 29, 2024.
Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf arrives to announce his resignation during a statement, at Bute House, in Edinburgh, on April 29, 2024.
ANDREW MILLIGAN via Getty Images

Humza Yousaf has resigned as Scotland’s First Minister, triggering another SNP leadership contest.

After barely a year in the post, and just 13 months after Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, the party’s lengthy dominance of Scottish politics is suddenly looking rather precarious.

Here’s what we can expect to happen next.

Why did Humza Yousaf resign?

Yousaf resigned on Monday morning, days before he was set to face a vote of no confidence in the Scottish Parliament.

It came shortly after he decided to end the Bute House Agreement, which saw the Green Party prop up the SNP’s minority government at Holyrood.

The Greens had already been planning to ballot their members on whether to abandon the BHA after Yousaf dropped the Scottish government’s ambitious climate targets.

In an act of revenge, the Greens announced that they would support the motion of no confidence laid down by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross.

That left Yousaf in the awkward position of having to seek a deal with Ash Regan, his former SNP leadership rival who defected to Alex Salmond’s Alba Party last year, in order to win her support.

But in his resignation speech on Monday, the first minister said: “I am not willing to trade my values and principles, or do a deal with whoever, simply for retaining power.”

Yousaf resigned at midday on Monday.
Yousaf resigned at midday on Monday.
Pool via Getty Images

What does Yousaf’s resignation mean for the SNP?

Yousaf’s resignation means the SNP is once again on the lookout for a new leader, although he has vowed to stay in post until his successor is chosen.

There will be a meeting of the SNP’s national executive committee to hash out the details of the leadership election later this week.

According to the SNP’s constitution, a candidate needs the nomination of at least 100 members from at least 20 branches of the party.

However, moves are afoot among senior SNP figures to install John Swinney - who led the party between 2000 and 2004 and is not a backbench MSP - without the need for a contest.

Swinney, who was deputy first minister under Nicola Sturgeon, has said he is “actively considering” throwing his hat into the ring.

What does this mean for the Scottish government?

Once his SNP successor is chosen, Yousaf will tender his resignation as first minister to King Charles.

The new leader then faces the tricky task of being elected first minister in a parliament where the SNP does not have a majority.

They will need to come to an agreement with one or more of the other parties in the Scottish parliament in order to become first minister.

So could there be an early election in Scotland?

If the new SNP leader cannot secure Holyrood’s backing to form a new government within 28 days, there will need to be an emergency election.

This is the preference of Scottish Labour, who say the SNP should not be allowed to foist another unelected first minister on the people of Scotland.

With the SNP and Labour neck-and-neck in the polls, it could see the nationalists ousted from power after 17 years.

Even if Scottish voters do go to the ballot box in a sudden election this year, rules set out in the devolution legislation (the Scotland Act) mean there will still be an election as planned in May 2026.

Does this have anything to do with Westminster?

Not exactly, although the chaos engulfing the SNP is bound the have repercussions for the party at the upcoming UK general election.

At the moment, the SNP has 43 of Scotland’s 59 seats at Westminster, but the party is bracing itself for a bad night whenever Rishi Sunak decides the country should go to the polls.

Labour sources are hopeful they could gain more than 20 seats on the night at the expense of the SNP, delivering a hammer-blow to whoever is chosen as the new SNP leader.


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