Michael Sturrock in The National: I voted No, now I’m pro-Yes. Here’s why I’m backing Humza Yousaf

Originally published byThe National on 13 March 2023.

I voted against Scottish independence in 2014. Now, I am a committed Yesser. Having made the switch, I have spent a lot of time trying to understand the central reasons behind why people have gone from No to Yes on Scottish independence and what more we need to do to persuade others.

Clearly, we are at a critical juncture, and the SNP needs a new leader who is best placed to appeal to those who are undecided or No voters.

Who is that? Here’s my take:

Persuasion to independence relies on both ‘push factors’, which outline the untenable situation in which we find ourselves as part of the UK; and ‘pull factors’, which outline the opportunities of independence. In my experience, when speaking to an undecided or no voter, nine times out of ten, they want to hear the pull arguments. 

Those nine out of ten can already see how the UK is not working. They see the corruption and incompetence of the UK Government. They see daily the impact of Brexit on our lives and our economy. They saw how billions was wasted or handed to Tory donors via PPE contracts. They see that the opposition has not only capitulated to the Tories on Brexit, but on the anti-immigrant and anti-minority narrative that pervades UK politics.

Certainly, we need a leader who can articulate the unviability of the present situation in which Scotland finds itself. But, and I believe more importantly, we need the leader who has the best strategy for developing and persuading people of the positive vision—the pull factors—of independence.

Let’s take the economy, for example. As we know, economic worries are one of the prime hesitations No and undecided voters have.

The ‘push factor’ is now clear. Despite the astounding depth and breadth of economic incompetence and damage caused by successive UK Governments, their trump card has been the ability to portray staying in the UK as providing economic certainty and pursuing Scottish independence as taking an economic risk. It is clear now that staying in the UK does not proffer economic certainty. In fact, it does the opposite. But those as yet unpersuaded know this.

These pull factors, on the other hand, are clear and convincing: reverse Brexit; harness new energy potential to cut bills and provide investment for communities; gain control of immigration to allow us to plug skills gaps; and beyond.

To win on the economy, the new leader must be the one who can best seize control of the narrative and use the strong pull-factor arguments as a basis for a bold vision of an economy that works for all.

As well as a reframing and new approach to ‘pull factors’ like economic opportunity, we need to highlight and develop those already established.

The SNP has established a clear consensus for inclusive and progressive politics that better protects and advances the rights and opportunities for minorities, workers, and the poorer and more vulnerable in society. We are also settled on our vision of an outward-looking, European and climate-conscious Scotland.

Indeed, often, I find that No and undecided voters share progressive European outlook. We have, after all, collectively rejected the conservative alternative in every election since 1955.

Indeed, the opportunities of European citizenship and integration are one thing, but the necessity for international collaboration to tackle the biggest issues of the day—climate change, immigration, inequality—is an inextricable part of the worldview of many in Scotland, and is central to winning others over to independence.

Ultimately, the hesitation of many to embrace independence is because this progressive European vision of independence has simply not yet got through to them. There are still gaps in the understanding of how independence could work and, in those gaps, sits risk.

Underpinning all of this, therefore, is their ability to connect and communicate effectively with no and undecided voters. The substance and quality of the argument doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get through.

So, who is best placed to win people from No to Yes on Scottish independence?

For me, it has to be Humza.

Not only will he be able to present the strong pre-existing economic arguments for independence, but his proposals for an economy driven by wellbeing, with support for workers and working families, as well as focussing on local growth will best appeal to those worried about how independence might affect them and their loved ones. This, twinned with bold national plans such as giving Scots an equity stake in the energy industry, shows a multi-layered strategy that will give confidence that there is an economic plan—and a good one—for independence.

Equality and opportunity stretch beyond his economics. He has demonstrated his clear and unrelenting commitment to continuing the established progressive European vision of Scotland. Along with ensuring the SNP has a permanent foot in Brussels, he is the only candidate to have committed to protect and advance the rights of minorities. For young generation—the group among which independence support is greatest—the expansion of rights for all is non-negotiable. Consequently, Humza is the only one can continue to persuade coming generations to the cause.

To top it off, Humza is a fantastic and engaging communicator. Anyone who attended or watched hustings will have seen the clear and powerful manner in which he projects his vision for the future. Indeed, a fellow candidate noted his communication skills in Edinburgh on Friday. Those who stuck around after will have seen the personable and interested way he spoke to each of the many members who wanted to share their views. It has showed me that Humza is the person who will best be able to connect with the public at large, and on an individual level.

With Humza Yousaf, I am sure we will see many more engage with the independence movement and move from No to Yes on independence.