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Scotland's first minister resigns

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Scotland's leader, Humza Yousaf, has resigned. A series of political miscalculations in the past week led to his widely anticipated resignation earlier today as Scotland's first minister and as leader of the Scottish National Party, or SNP. This is just the latest in a series of blows to his party's ambition for Scottish independence, as Willem Marx reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: First, the official oath. Do you swear...

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: Humza Yousaf was sworn into office last spring after his predecessor, Nicola Sturgeon, stepped down amid a swirl of allegations about misspent party funds. And just months before that, plans for another referendum on Scotland's potential independence from Britain were placed on hold after being halted by the U.K. Supreme Court. But chosen to succeed Sturgeon as the first Scottish Muslim leader, Humza Yousaf nevertheless promised to push on with a program for independence.

For a year, he governed in a coalition with the country's Green Party under a deal known as the Bute House Agreement. But recently, after scientists said climate targets his Scottish National Party had set were no longer realistic, Yousaf took a bold decision last week and blew up that Bute House Agreement with the Greens. The subsequent loss of trust was to prove his personal undoing as Green Party leader, Patrick Harvie, made clear to Scottish television.

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PATRICK HARVIE: That's where the problem lies. He has broken trust and abandoned a promise to work together in a constructive way. I think that's deeply damaging.

MARX: Yousaf seemed to realize his mistake too late, as he acknowledged today during an occasionally regretful resignation speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HUMZA YOUSAF: I believe it was the right decision for the country. My hope was to continue working with the Greens in a less formal arrangement as the SNP moved into a new phase of minority government. Unfortunately, in ending the Bute House Agreement in the manner that I did, I clearly underestimated the level of hurt and upset that caused Green colleagues. For a minority government to be able to govern effectively and efficiently, trust when working with the opposition is clearly fundamental.

MARX: But for some of that political opposition, Scotland's current predicament is about far more than a personal or personnel problem. The SNP is now working to select a new party leader and will hope they can once more forge a governing majority in the legislature. But that's not a political process that will win widespread appeal, says Anas Sarwar, leader of the Scottish Labor Party.

ANAS SARWAR: This has never been about one person. It's about a dysfunctional party, a chaotic government and 17 years of SNP failure. And I think it'd be completely unacceptable, untenable, actually, for the SNP to just impose another unelected leader on this country. That's why we believe we should have an election and the people of the country to decide who leads our government.

MARX: Labor would hope to pick up more seats in any new Scottish election as they aim to do in a U.K.-wide election expected later this year. Among those seen as a possible SNP successor to Yousaf is John Swinney, who paid tribute soon after today's resignation speech.

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JOHN SWINNEY: He's led our country with empathy, with care and with an emphasis always on bringing people together. So I very much regret the fact that he's felt it necessary to leave the standing (ph).

MARX: Yousaf had been in office a little over a year since his swearing in, without the need for an election. But if his party's next chosen leader cannot command the parliamentary majority in the next month, it's an election that will be Scotland's only remaining option. For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Willem Marx
[Copyright 2024 NPR]