Humza Yousaf delivers plan for new Scottish written constitution

Humza Yousaf.
First Minister Humza Yousaf has unveiled plans for written constitution if Scotland becomes independent. Credit: PA

An independent Scotland would have a written constitution and that could enshrine lots of ideas in law.

A bit of an oversimplification, perhaps, but that's how the first minister of Scotland's speech this morning could be fairly summed up.

Humza Yousaf presented his white paper on independence - the fourth in a series, but his first since replacing Nicola Sturgeon at the top of the SNP and Scottish Government - and it contained bold ideas about the role of the monarchy, nuclear weapons, and the NHS if Scotland were to leave the UK.

None of this is set in stone and would be up for debate, even a referendum whether or not to keep the King.

Ideas. Visions. What might be. Maybe.

The problem is this presentation was close to the definition of fiddling while Rome burns.

The SNP's empire is besieged, and the new emperor is standing at a podium talking about a hypothetical constitution in a hypothetical independent Scotland that might come to pass in the future.

To even deliver his vision, he says he wants a legally-binding referendum which is we know, categorically, beyond his powers to deliver.

Meanwhile, three of the most senior people in his party have been arrested in as many months, including his predecessor, Ms Sturgeon.

Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, her husband and former SNP CEO Peter Murrell and former party treasurer Colin Beattie. Credit: PA

All have, of course, been released without charge pending further investigation into the funding and finances of the SNP - an investigation that is very much ongoing.

The public have witnessed the unedifying display of police raiding the SNP's headquarters, as well as the high-profile search at the home of Ms Sturgeon and her husband, Peter Murrell, the party's former chief executive.

A week after her release, Ms Sturgeon appeared in public for the first time yesterday afternoon, insisting she has "done nothing wrong".

Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks to the media outside her home following her arrest. Credit: PA

In law she is, of course, entitled to a legal presumption of innocence until, and only if, proven otherwise.

The trouble for her and the SNP is the court of public opinion doesn't tend to wait around for due process.

Her personal approval ratings have now plummeted into the negative for the first time in her political life.

And it's also a worrying picture for her party, with the latest Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times showing this saga is having a detrimental affect on SNP support.

Projections now show Labour could overtake the SNP at the next general election. A hugely significant shift given Labour haven't won an election in Scotland since 2010, and had no realistic prospect of winning north of the border until the last few months of complete turmoil.

It has to be said, it's not just the police investigation that's harming the SNP; the decline started to set in when Ms Sturgeon resigned, and was ushered along by a particularly messy leadership contest to replace her.

But the arrest and release of Ms Sturgeon has apparently tipped some voters over the edge and it is only the latest polling that puts Labour in the lead.

That she picked the day before Mr Yousaf's first big announcement on independence to break cover after being in hiding for a week, then giving an impromptu press conference on her drive way, has irked some even in her party.

Could she not have waited? Yes. She could have let Mr Yousaf have his moment; allowed him to present his vision for independence and rally the troops behind his distinct leadership.

Instead, she took the limelight and it meant Mr Yousaf was again standing in her shadow today, answering questions on Ms Sturgeon rather than the focus being entirely on the ideas in his white paper.

Peter Smith asked the first minister if protecting Nicola Sturgeon has become more of a priority than protecting the SNP or securing independence

I asked if protecting Ms Sturgeon has become a bigger priority than protecting the SNP and the cause of independence.

He denied this, but when the SNP group publicly announces they are sending flowers to Ms Sturgeon it is easy to see why some independence supporters are getting worried.

Many are already concerned at the lack of progress from the SNP on delivering independence, and some are questioning if Ms Sturgeon is more of a hindrance than a help to their cause now.

Some, even within the SNP, would like to see Mr Yousaf ask her politely to stop talking - to stop taking the attention she knows she will get whenever she stands in front of a microphone and allow him a chance to stand on his own feet, talking about his own ideas without distraction.

If the expression on Mr Yousaf's face is anything to go by, he too is feeling the frustration of his predecessor being the main attraction from the back benches, and from conversations I have had with some SNP sources I would not be at all surprised if a friend has a word in the ear of Ms Sturgeon this week.

She may not listen, of course. She is renowned for being strong-willed and will always have faith in her own political judgement.

Indeed, she has already promised, in her last address to the media, that she would take more questions when she returns to parliament this week.

Some senior SNP figures must have had their heads in their hands at those words, asking, "why?"

Certainly, until Mr Yousaf shows he is capable of controlling this 'Nicola Sturgeon show', he will be accused of the kind of weakness that usually proves costly for political leaders. And if the trajectory of damage being done continues, he will be eventually forced to take his white papers for independence onto the opposition benches with him.

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