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Sensemaker: Meet Humza Yousaf

Sensemaker: Meet Humza Yousaf

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu said he would delay a planned judicial overhaul until parliament meets next month. 
  • Hungary approved Finland’s Nato membership, leaving Sweden’s bid on hold. 
  • An Australian company created a woolly mammoth meatball to show the potential of meat grown from cells. 

Meet Humza Yousaf

Fifteen paragraphs into his victory speech yesterday, the new leader of the Scottish National Party thought to mention “independence”. Later he developed the theme: “The people of Scotland need independence now more than ever, and we will be the generation that delivers independence for Scotland.”

So what? There are two ways of thinking about this speech:

  • as a paean to possibility from the grandson of immigrants on a multi-generational journey “from the Punjab to our parliament” and beyond; or
  • as an empty promise. 

Possibilities. For the SNP establishment and the segment of the Scottish national Venn diagram where “progressive”, “pro-independence” and “pro-European” overlap, Humza Yousaf offers a beguiling picnic of promises. He stands for higher taxes, action against poverty, action on net zero, a “well-being economy” and – via independence – a return to the EU. 

But the path to that picnic is steep and rough and lined with bear traps, many of them of Yousaf’s own making.

His record. For a 37 year-old without much experience of anything else, Yousaf has a lot of experience of Scottish politics. None of it has done him much credit. In the first debate of the leadership contest his closest rival, Kate Forbes, said the trains didn’t run on time when he was transport minister, the police were strained to breaking point when he was justice secretary and Scotland has record waiting times on his watch as health minister. The line stuck. 

He’s personable, proud (of his heritage, as a Scot and as a European) and passionate about independence ever since seeing it after 9/11 as a way to avoid wars. But he’s vulnerable to the charge of failing up and is seen by many as a placeholder

His agenda. As the SNP’s continuity candidate, Yousaf inherits 

  • a difficult collective position on gender, having backed a gender recognition bill that Westminster vetoed, and now having only two weeks in which to lodge a formal complaint; 
  • a difficult personal position on gay marriage, having contrived to miss the final vote that legalised it in Scotland in 2014; and
  • a doomed pledge to seek clearance from Westminster for a new independence referendum, which Downing Street had already refused.

Once confirmed in post by a vote in Holyrood today, he’ll also be the first Republican First Minister committed to replacing Charles III post-independence with an elected head of state.

His party. Yousaf takes on the party management at a time when it’s saddled with 

  • awkward questions about a 30,000 slide in membership numbers since 2021 and why it failed to report it until pressed to shortly before the election;
  • an active police investigation into the alleged misuse of £600,000 of party funds ring-fenced for referendums;
  • a slump in overall enthusiasm for independence in opinion polls to 2014 levels; and
  • a vacuum where for 18 years there’s been a household name and a proven political heavyweight in the leader’s office.

Independence, to be viable, needs a plan for transition to a Scottish pound and a plan in the event of EU accession for transition from that to the Euro and a hard but permeable border with England.

Yousaf doesn’t have convincing plans for any of these, yet. Nor is his authority unchallenged.  Forbes ran him a much closer second than expected and Labour and the Conservatives are both delighted to be fighting him, not her, at the next election. 

But he still calls himself the luckiest man in the world, and his luck could hold. The tide for independence could flow again, says William Hague, the former Tory leader who has bet against it to his cost. And who’s to say a man who took his first oath as an MSP in Urdu and a kilt can’t ride it?


Ukraine vs cats
One of Europe’s largest ammunition manufacturers says a planned expansion for a factory in central Norway to meet surging demand due to the war in Ukraine has been held up because a new data centre for TikTok is using all the spare electricity in the area. The chief executive of Nammo, which is co-owned by the Norwegian government, told the Financial Times that demand for artillery rounds was more than 15 times higher than normal. “We are concerned because we see our future growth is challenged by the storage of cat videos,” Morten Brandtzæg said. TikTok has announced plans to store European data locally in response to security concerns – and the European Commission estimates that data centres will guzzle 3.2 per cent of the bloc’s electricity by 2030. With the clean energy transition also driving battery and steel firms to the Nordics, this is not the last fight over who should get priority access to Europe’s electricity grids. 


Pope’s puffer
Over the weekend an image of Pope Francis in a large, white puffer jacket went viral, with users commenting on the “stylish” look for the leader of the Catholic Church. But the image was faked using generative AI. Originally posted on Reddit by user u/trippy_art_special with the title “The Pope Drip”, it was produced using the AI image generator Midjourney. Ryan Broderick, a web culture expert, told the New Scientist that the Pope image was the “first real mass-level AI misinformation case”. Should we be worried? Maybe. AI image generators still have limits – particularly hands. The Pope image was also cropped so it had no background to establish context – images posted on Reddit of the Pope playing Glastonbury are clearly easier to clock as fake. But as generative AI becomes more accessible and increases in quality, without clear regulation and standards it will become harder to tell the difference. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

School shooting generation
Yesterday, a 28 year-old fatally shot three nine year-olds and three members of staff at a Catholic school in Nashville Tennessee. Police said the shooter – identified as Audrey E. Hale – was a former student at the school. It’s the 13th deadly school shooting in America this year; there were 51 in 2022. Joe Biden said gun violence was “ripping the soul of the nation” and repeated calls for Congress to ban assault-style weapons – which the Nashville shooter carried. But even if such legislation passed (unlikely), children could still easily access guns. New survey results from Colorado, the site of the 1999 Columbine school shooting, found a quarter of teenagers could access a loaded gun within 24 hours – usually because their parents own one. Half of those said it would take less than 10 minutes. Making it harder by securing guns properly in the home would not just reduce gun violence, say the study’s authors. It would also help reduce the rate of teenage suicide. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Emitters emeritus
How would you feel if your university lecturer was also a rep for big oil? Exxon staff contributed to teaching and were given office space at several US universities including Princeton and MIT, a Guardian investigation found. In one instance a senior scientific advisor for Exxon taught an engineering class at Princeton on “negative emissions technologies” during which he reportedly criticised the university’s decision to divest from fossil fuels and said the climate emergency was “not our fault”. Oil majors have courted America’s elite universities for decades, collectively providing $700 million worth of research partnerships since 2010. But the physical presence of firms on campus marks a new attempt to influence academia with industry-friendly science. While universities like Princeton and Harvard have now bowed to student pressure to divest their endowments, the reach of fossil fuels into academia still runs deep.


The prince and the press
Room 76 at the high court in London is unadorned and unassuming. But yesterday it was graced with unexpected stardom. Prince Harry sat a couple of metres away from the press; Sir Elton John sat on a red plastic chair in the public gallery, occasionally stifling a yawn. They are two of seven claimants, also including campaigner Baroness Doreen Lawrence, who accuse Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Daily Mail, of “abhorrent criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy”, including phone tapping and the payment of police officials for sensitive information. Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) strenuously denies the allegations. In this week’s preliminary hearings, ANL will seek to stop the case going to trial, with lawyers arguing that the claims are “stale”. Yesterday, the Daily Mail publisher successfully used the Human Rights Act to stop media organisations naming 73 journalists and executives mentioned in the claims at least as until Mr Justice Nicklin rules on its strike out application. On day two of the hearing, Prince Harry is again in Room 76.

Listen: The prince against the press, a Tortoise Slow Newscast about Prince Harry’s legal claims against Britain’s biggest media groups.

Thanks for reading. Please tell your friends to sign up, send us ideas and let us know what you think. Email sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

Additional reporting by Jess Winch, Phoebe Davis, Barney Macintyre and Xavier Greenwood.

Photographs Getty Images

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