In This Episode
Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf joins Nish and Coco to reflect on the highs and lows of his first year as leader. He takes us back to the fateful Valentine’s night phone call with Nicola Sturgeon that changed his life, and tells us how he felt watching his former mentor shed a tear at the Covid Inquiry last week.
The First Minister talks about the helplessness he felt when his family members were trapped in Gaza, and reveals his fears for his brother-in-law, a surgeon who remains in Khan Younis. He tells how Keir Starmer called to offer his support, in stark contrast to Rishi Sunak and his then Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.
Their wide-ranging conversation also takes in King Charles’ shock cancer news, independence and Brexit, and the challenge the SNP faces at the next general election. Plus there’s Celtic FC, samosas and learn why his first ever job gave him a huge bicep! This week’s hero and villain can be found on our social media channels.
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Humza Yousaf, First Minister of Scotland, and leader of the Scottish National Party
UK Covid-19 Inquiry
Nish Kumar Hi, this is Pod the UK.
Coco Khan I’m Coco Khan.
Nish Kumar And I’m Nish Kumar.
Coco Khan And on today’s show. It’s been the best of years and the worst of years for our guest. Scotland’s first Minister Humza Yousaf.
Nish Kumar He got his dream job as Scottish First Minister.
Coco Khan But was he given the mother of all hospital passes by Nicola Sturgeon.
Nish Kumar After 17 years in power, the once dominant SNP has suffered a decline in the polls and there is an ongoing police investigation into its finances.
Coco Khan We’ll ask First Minister Humza Yousaf if he can turn things around in 2024. Hi, Nish. How are you?
Nish Kumar Very good. Coco, how are you?
Coco Khan Sometimes when we do the intro credits, we go. Hi, it’s me, Coco Khan. And you? I always have this temptation to say hi. It’s me Nish Kumar. Do you have that?
Nish Kumar Can I tell you something? My friend, Brett Goldstein.
Coco Khan Yeah, yeah.
Nish Kumar Star of stage and screen. Yeah. There’s two things to tell you about. He listens to this show, and he calls that section the bit where Nish reads his own name. He says it makes him laugh so much that it sounds like I’m reading my own night in the opening credits because I don’t know my own life. He also, and this is a slightly more convoluted, inside joke. I used to do a show on, a much missed shortform content platform called Quibi.
Coco Khan Yeah, yeah.
Nish Kumar Which existed, I think, for about five minutes, which ironically was the length of most of his content. And he used to watch that show on the toilet. Oh. So he referred to the show as toilet knish. He said it was the perfect length of time for him to take a dump and find out what was going on in the news. And now he calls this podcast Toilet Nish, the podcast.
Coco Khan Toilet Nish the Podcast. I think that is a that, is it touch free?
Nish Kumar I don’t know whether because of the podcast length, he’s now taking 45 minute dumps, but he still refers.
Coco Khan He needs to see a doctor is what he needs.
Nish Kumar He refers to this As Toilet Nish the podcast.
Coco Khan I don’t really know how I meant to take that. I don’t really know how to receive it. I have this thing the other day when I was walking down the street, and this guy comes up to me as a listener and was like, excuse me, I hope this isn’t too weird. Do you do a podcast? And I’m like, yeah, I do do a quarter ass. And he’s like, do you host the podcast? And and I said, yes, I do. And then he was about to say, are you? And I was so close to being like, that’s right, it’s me. Come on. I really, really, really well. And it took everything so that you don’t ever get that.
Nish Kumar What people coming up to me is like, are you Coco Khan?
Coco Khan Just like the desire to mix up the. You don’t have that.
Nish Kumar No I like. People are very nice about the podcast. They often come up and say that they they really enjoy it, and they often tell me that they are surprised that you’re funnier than me, which I’m not, because I know you.
Coco Khan Oh, what else do you get? We get there. A lot of snakes, aren’t we? Toilet Nish podcast.
Nish Kumar Everyone’s flirting with us, Coco. Is it? Everyone’s making us. The whole world is trying to bang us.
Coco Khan Everyone’s. This is the game.
Nish Kumar Everybody’s trying. Everyone’s trying to bang us. It’s hard being this pretty. Our guest this week is Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, Humza Yousaf. First Minister, hello and thank you so much for joining us.
Humza Yousaf Thank you. What a pleasure.
Nish Kumar It’s quite an odd one. I think in some ways for us to be have a good conversation because we are a show that’s called Pod Save the UK, and we’re interviewing someone whose entire political life has been dedicated to leaving the UK.
Humza Yousaf And will continue to be that. Yes. And that is interesting, but I see a lot of commonality across the UK. I’m sure we’ll touch upon upon that as well. So no.
Nish Kumar I don’t say you would only have something else in common in that we’re at the same fucking age, which obviously makes me feel a lot of things about my life and the decisions I’ve taken.
Humza Yousaf Oh, that’s not true. I’ve never sold out the Apollo. But then neither have you. I’m just kidding. No. No, I’ve. No, no. The thing is, your careers and of course, the upward trajectory of the pinnacle and the peak, and then.
Nish Kumar Are your parents still saying, sure, you lead in the country, but where is that medical career?
Humza Yousaf Yeah, yeah. Well, actually, my mum gave me that trouble recently because the family house, having dinner, I’ve got two sisters and they were over with the husbands. But having a child and just cause I was talking to my sister, not for any other reason. Less than we’re cleaning up. And I was gonna get up and clean up, mum. But she said, and said this, you know, your first Minister don’t think you can’t do the dishes. So I was like, it’s nothing to do with First Minister’s actually talking to my sister about anything. So my mum keeps me grounded. I think.
Coco Khan That’s important. That’s important. We had a funny conversation before you came on air. We were like, oh, what should we call him? Obviously we’ve got this desi moment, so presumably we can be informal. And I think you had a great suggestion. Didn’t you Nish?
Nish Kumar What?
Coco Khan First Minister Bi.
Nish Kumar First Minister Bi.
Humza Yousaf The first Minister Bi. I like that, that’s good, that’s good. Let’s go with that First Minister. But I mean, I thought you were about to hit me up with some real Punjabi swearwords. But let’s keep that. Let’s keep that for the after.
Coco Khan We’ll keep that. So we’ve got a lot we want to talk to you about. But before we get into it, we just wanted to take a moment to reflect on the story that’s kind of overshadowed everything else this week. And that is the announcement that King Charles is being treated for cancer. Prince Harry flew in from California to spend some time with his father at Clarence House yesterday. The King and Queen Camilla have now gone to their Sandringham estate in Norfolk, where they’re expected to stay while he undergoes treatment. In an interview with BBC radio five live, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak seemed to break protocol by revealing more than was in Buckingham Palace. His statement.
Clip Well, obviously, like everyone else, is shocked and sad and just all our thoughts are with him and his family. And, you know, thankfully. This has been caught early and now everyone will be wishing him, that he gets if he gets the treatment that, that he needs and makes a full recovery. I think that’s what we’re all hoping and praying for. And, of course, in in regular contact with him and will continue to, to communicate with him as, as normal.
Coco Khan Were you told the news before it was made public?
Humza Yousaf I was as, tends to be protocol, but obviously we didn’t, say anything publicly till the news broke, publicly. And, look, my my sentiments are somewhat everybody else’s. You know, the not the epics in the country that probably hasn’t been impacted, affected by cancer in some way, shape or form. And, actually, in one sense, doesn’t matter if you’re king, or not, you’re going to have children that are worried about you, your partner or your wife that’s worried about you. And many others, even as the king right across the country that what he for this health so speedy recovery to him. And I hope you get back into to his public engagements and, you know, in fairness to to the kingdom look, my my views are well known around monarchy. And, I describe myself very much as a, as a Republican, but I absolutely think he has been ahead of his time on many issues, climate change being being being one of them. So look, I think his his voice is an important one. As I say, I just wish him all the very best of health.
Nish Kumar We’re coming up to quite an important anniversary for you personally, because it’s almost a year since, your predecessor, Nicola Sturgeon, announced the resignation, which just felt quite shocking at the time. It obviously changed your life massively and led to you taking over as leader of the SNP and First Minister. What was that moment like?
Humza Yousaf You’re right. It was a shock. I remember the day very, very well. So when I resigned publicly on the, on the on the 15th Butan announcement, she phoned me the day before Valentine’s Day, actually on the 14th. And that’s strange. Get a phone call from your boss on Valentine’s Day, and I go, I wonder what’s up here. And it was it was late, and I think it was about 9:45, I think, when she gave me a call.
Nish Kumar So you really had no sense that that was coming? That completely came out of the blue to you.
Humza Yousaf Oh, completely. The timing of I think most of us probably thought Nicola is likely to resign ahead of 2026. That’s when the next Scottish elections are due to take place. But many of us thought it would be probably years, years down the line, so completely, completely out of the blue and complete shock. And I mean the. First sentence, she said to me I knew what she was going to to tell me, she said. I said, I said, who are you? I said, I’m okay, but you’re not going to like what I’ve got to say to you. And I said, well, don’t say it. And then she decided to see it and tell me. And it was a bit of profanity, from my end. And, and then I then I could. I said something like at the end of the conversation, which is almost grassing it up. I said to, right, I’m going to go speak to John about this because it’s outrageous. I think you’ll like me. And John as her was her deputy. John Swinney was our deputy. And I phoned him and he said, look, I’ve had the conversation with her. Her mind’s made up on. So this is just a new phase and you know that we’ve got to. And then he said, you should go for it kind of urged me to to think about it and consent. And it’s a bizarre thing, by the way. I mean, she resigned, you know, and there was the Wednesday and you basically got till the Friday, two days to make this a life changing decision. Because if you’re going to launch a campaign, you’ve got to do early, you know, you’ve got to go. You want to be first, get that first mover advantage, and then you’ve got two days to put yourself in a bit of a bunker and talk to my wife, predominantly, primarily, also the members of my family, and come to decision on what could be a life altering decision that you make. And in my case, it absolutely was.
Coco Khan Do you think you felt prepared at that time for the challenges you were going to face.
Humza Yousaf So nothing can prepare you for being leader of your your country? I’ve held various ministerial jobs of getting government for 11.5 years, and I’ve had some really difficult, challenging roles. Health secretary in the middle of a pandemic. But nothing can quite prepare you for the everyday challenges. Strains stress because matter what you do in advance of being First Minister, nothing can prepare you of being a leader of your your government in your country. But it’s one hell of an honor.
Nish Kumar I mean, I think sometimes those of us outside of politics assume that everyone who enters politics is eventual ambition, is to be the leader of their party and then the leader of their country. But surely, I mean, maybe it’s just because we’re the same age. But I have to believe that you this is this has happened ahead of schedule for you. I think the last two things we can be young for, leader of a country or manager of a football club, as far as I can tell, that’s the last two things a 38 year old can be young for.
Humza Yousaf I don’t think it was really so much a kind of ambition that I thought about particularly proactively, as kind of like being the captain of your football team, obviously. Yeah, greater responsibility, I would suggest. But, being the captain of your your national team is that’s something that you would absolutely be honored to do, privileged to do. And yeah, it’s the opportunity ever came up. I think I had it in my head. You know, I’ve I’ve been in government for so many years. And ultimately that was actually why I made the decision to go for it was, well, I’ve done all these different roles in government over the years. I’ve got this experience, if not now, than when there’s an opportunity. What’s the worst that can happen? The worst is that you go for it and you don’t get it. And fair play to the person that does, and you get on with the job or you get it and you have the greatest honor of your life, which is leading the country you love, the country you call home, the country of raising your kids. And, what can be better than that?
Nish Kumar [AD]
Coco Khan Well, Humza, we are three people of color, three South Asians. So let’s fulfill every stereotype and talk about race.
Humza Yousaf I thought you were about to say bring out the samosas, but no.
Coco Khan Well, I was thinking earlier because we’re sort of sat in a little triangle which has a samosa energy, doesn’t it? It’s quite nice. It’s going to be spicy in the middle. That’s what we know for sure. We occasionally me and Nish, like to style ourselves as the news Asians.
Nish Kumar No one else does. I cannot stress that enough. Literally no one else does.
Coco Khan Really us. And listen, you know, it’s fascinating to see so many second generation British Asians rising to the top of politics. You know, you’ve got yourself Rishi Sunak as PM. Recent cabinet ministers like Priti Patel, Sajid Javid, Sadiq Khan, London mayor, you know, your opposite number and Anas Sarwar leading Scottish Labour. What do you think? Is this a sign of the success of multiculturalism?
Humza Yousaf Absolutely. And that’s why I can’t get over these politicians, usually, conservative politicians who themselves are ministers in the government saying that multiculturalism has failed. Really? I mean, the evidence all around us is that actually people of color have managed to progress not just in political fuels, but in business and the public sector, I know. By the way, there’s a long way to go, I think, about in Scotland, if I look across the public in the private sector, there’s still too few people of color at very senior roles, and there’s a responsibility for me to try to do what I can to to rectify that. But, this idea that multiculturalism has failed will actually the evidence, all around us, tells us, tells us a very different story indeed. I have to say, for all the differences I’ve got, with, the likes of Rishi Sunak and those differences are many. Look, I still celebrate the fact that a person of color made it to number ten. I think that’s good for other people of color to look up to and say, well, actually, that office is attainable for me.
Nish Kumar Can I ask you one question about one name that has not been mentioned? And that is Suella Braverman. And I think in terms of people who’ve said that multiculturalism has failed, she she’s actually one of them. It’s so fucking weird, like, it’s so strange to see someone who has a similar ethnic background and but I presume some similar overlaps in upbringing stand there and reject so many of the things that we have benefited from. How do you reckon with a political figure like Suella Braverman?
Humza Yousaf I mean, look, I think it’s the very, definition or personification of somebody pulling up a ladder after they’ve made it to the top. And actually, my view is always be that you should reach your hand out, try to bring others up with you. That’s my responsibility to do. I don’t want to be the last person of color in that role by any stretch. And you’ve mentioned there, for example, South Asians. I’ve done bail. Well, actually, if you want to see people, Afro, Afro-Caribbean Scots, we want to see Chinese, Scots, mostly Jewish Scots. We want to see others, that are minorities make their way to the highest levels of, of political office. And I think what worries me about the political rhetoric from the likes of Suella Braverman and others we saw today with the prime minister, is really debasing and degrading our politics by getting into these real culture war issues as a complete distraction from the actual issues of substance, whether it’s trans rights, whether it’s, of course, multiculturalism, whether it’s issues around migration and immigration. We’re all the evidence tells you that things, holistic migration evidence tells you almost virtually every study under the sun that migrants give more than they take. And yet we can’t seem in this country to be capable of having a sensible conversation that says, well, we have this much, this many work vacancies, and job vacancies. We need to grow our economy. Migrants give more than they take. Let’s have a sensible approach to migration that helps our economic growth, helps our society and our culture as well. And we’re just incapable of it because of this debasing and denigration of politics, which I’m afraid the conservatives are the cheerleaders of. And I suppose the last thing I’d say is what my worry is, because the Tories are out the door right there. They’re booted out. There’s no spots. Maybe they’re done. Thank goodness for it. My worry is that you’ve got a Labour Party who at times, and I think the migration debate as an example, began to fall into that same trap of following that dog whistle that the conservatives seemed to blow.
Coco Khan My concern with this set, and we’ll just speak specifically about Rishi Sunak now, is that he is someone who I mean, he recently gave an interview where he talks about how he had never experienced racism, really. You know, he had a sibling, I think that was once called the P word. And he reflected in this piece being like, oh, you know, I’m glad. I’m glad that won’t happen to my kids. And you just think you live on another planet mate. Is that true?
Humza Yousaf Totally out of the planet.
Coco Khan I guess actually, let me ask you, have you experienced racism on your way up to the top?
Humza Yousaf I mean, I think I probably experience a combination of racism and Islamophobia, if not every day probably every week. I mean, I protect myself on social media. I know that I don’t, you know, look at notifications and so on and so forth. But there was a time. I did, and I’d be surprised if I wasn’t, the victim of racism, Islamophobia online constantly. But look, I’ve, you know, even had people charged a few months ago and found guilty of racism, towards me. And, you know, do I think my children are immune from it? Not at all. Not at all. In fact, my worry is that they will face it to a greater degree. Then I faced it growing up. When I say that because of exactly the points we’re making, there’s this for some reason, obsession by, some politicians, particularly those in the right to open up division, to create division. And it’s a very deliberate political tactic. Whereas actually our responsibility as politicians who are only ever in leadership positions for a set period. Right. Where is all those who believe in democracy? We’ve got a responsibility to try to unify people and bring them together. That doesn’t mean we have to have disagreements, which are pretty robust exchanges around those disagreements. But we shouldn’t be looking for these culture war issues to divide society. And I’m I furious for my girls growing up? One is for one is 14. My worry is that they’ll face and encounter more racism and Islamophobia than I ever did.
Nish Kumar Have you encountered racism at Parliament?
Humza Yousaf I don’t think in necessarily the chamber. You know, I’ve had what we might call institutional racism or Islamophobia, and I was at a meeting a number of years ago now that a member was somebody who, was from England. He lived in Scotland. And I remember him at the beginning of the meeting saying, oh, you know, I’m from England. I’m an immigrant like you looking at me. I mean, I went from Glasgow to Dundee. I mean, that’s, that’s that’s a bit harsh, but genuinely. And I said, I actually said something. I’m not an immigrant. No no, no. And he was completely flustered. By I didn’t mean it in any way malicious, but it was that almost institutional, racism, that of course, you guys will encounter day in and day out. So probably institutionally. Yes, overtly. I’m pleased to say no. But of course, again, Holyrood is an institution, and the Scottish Government as an institution is not immune to structural institutional racism by any stretch of the imagination.
Nish Kumar Given the you know, we sort of came of age in the post 9/11 period. Was there ever a point where you were being pressured to not talk about your faith, or to maybe kind of keep elements of that of your personality to yourself?
Humza Yousaf Oh, for sure, for sure. When I became First Minister, you know, I put out a picture, pretty I mean, I think it was the day I got sworn in. Or if not the day, the day after, where I was in Bute House, which is the official residence, of the First Minister. And, it was Ramadan. So when I became first minister. So I broke my fast and then prayed alongside my family, and I put a photo of me praying with my family, praying alongside me. And I did that very purposely because I wanted to be known that actually having a first Minister who’s Muslim and my faith is important to me, actually, that should be perfectly normal. Yeah. I see that as perfectly normal. But there’s a number of people actually, including some from within the Muslim community, who said to me, maybe you should just, you know, step back from your identity. You know, maybe it’s not going to maybe people are going to turn against you. Several people will judge me on my politics, what I do, what I deliver. You know, what we don’t deliver that will be that’ll be what we get judged on. But if people are going to judge me on my faith, I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not.
Nish Kumar Well, let’s talk about, the political situation. The most obvious challenge that you faced in the past year has been the investigation that’s ongoing into the SNP’s finances. Obviously, we know that you can’t talk about it because it’d be seen to be influencing an ongoing police investigation. But I just wanted to ask you, how much harder does that make your job? And do you think that this has affected the public’s trust in the SNP going into a general election year?
Humza Yousaf Yeah, look, I’m not there. And so the intelligence of, the people who listen to your podcast and pretend that it hasn’t been difficult, of course it has been tricky. But I look at just today when we’re talking, you know, the latest poll, Ipsos Mori poll that’s come out puts us well ahead of the opposition and seven points ahead of the Labour Party. We’re not complacent about that. And we’re going to work hard. Of course, we hope that we know in a general election. But also that point about trust is really important. I think in every single area the pool asks about, we’re trusted more than our leaders, rival, the Labour Party. So we’re trusted more than Labour Party on the NHS, on the economy, and so on and so forth. And that, to me, tells me up. The police investigation and other external headwinds will be a challenge. But if we can deliver for people and that’s what matters, then. So if they’re in their house and they see that their council tax is frozen and they’ve still got access to free childcare, they don’t pay any for their child’s tuition fees at some of the best universities in the world. And their child, who’s under 22, can travel freely in the busses. Yeah, I’ve got to focus on delivery. That’s that’s the that’s the name of the game.
Nish Kumar Well. Yeah. Let’s talk about, Nicola Sturgeon now, she’s been back in the public eye at the Covid inquiry. She was your mentor. You’ve spoken extensively about your personal affection for her and the high regard you hold her in as a politician. She got quite emotional, at the Covid inquiry last week. Let’s just hear a brief clip of that.
Clip I was the First Minister when, the pandemic struck. There’s a large part of me wishes that I hadn’t been. But I was, and I wanted to be the best first Minister I could be during that period is for others to judge the extent to which I succeeded.
Nish Kumar Was it hard to watch her shed a tear at last week’s Covid inquiry?
Humza Yousaf Very hard. Yeah. Very hard. Because, look, I worked alongside Nicola was her initially during the pandemic, I was our justice secretary, and then I was our health secretary, for the period throughout it. And she and I worked very closely together. And I can tell you, without a single iota of doubt or hesitation, that Nicola Sturgeon worked her socks off for one reason and one reason only, and that was to try to protect people in this country from from harm of Covid. And I would look at Nicola some days and she would look utterly exhausted. I can see that she’d lost weight. I was talking to her. She wasn’t sleeping. This was just constant. She was nothing but dedicated to that. Now does she get everything right? Did we get everything right? Of course. No one should be the first to absolutely admit that. And the whole purpose of the inquiry is to really probe into those issues. Could you have done lockdown earlier? Should you have tested those that were discharged from hospital sooner? These are all the right questions. Absolutely. To be probing. But questioning I think Nicola’s integrity. To me that’s, that’s, that’s beyond a doubt that she absolutely worked our socks off. And as I say, all for the reason, and absolutely for the purpose of stopping the harm of Covid from spreading more than than I was. So, yeah, it was pretty hard to watch, if I’m honest.
Coco Khan Have you spoken to her since that? I mean, is she okay?
Humza Yousaf I did very briefly. And, you know, she found it difficult, but, you know, that was a private conversation, so I wanted to much more about it. But I spoke to, just, you know, she was. Because Nicola is still my colleague. I’ve got a job to make sure my colleague’s wellbeing is okay, and. And a lot of them there were the under significant amount of, of scrutiny and and even pressure. Yeah. I think our mental health regardless of what role you’re in, really important. We just all look out for each other.
Coco Khan Well on the subject of the wellbeing of politicians, we put a question out, some of our listeners to ask, hey, hey, would you like to ask the First Minister? And actually a lot of our listeners wanted to ask, are you okay? You know, obviously we heard a lot about your your family, your in-laws, particularly in Gaza. I mean, how is everything?
Humza Yousaf Look, it’s tough. Those four weeks where my in-laws were in Gaza. Probably the most difficult four weeks, of our lives. I have to say, and I have to confess, it’s still difficult. Nadia, my wife, our brother Mohammed, is still in Gaza. My wife’s stepmom is still in Gaza. My wife’s gran, who’s 93, is still in Gaza. Aunties and uncles and I spoke to Mohammed. What do you do on splits? Three days are called out, and, he’s in a really difficult place. I mean, he’s resilient. He’s strong. He’s trying to just take each day as it comes. You know, the fact that, you know, he was finding it difficult just to get access to clean water breaks my heart, totally breaks my heart. And, the situation in Gaza is a humanitarian catastrophe beyond anything I’ve ever seen. And I can’t, understand why we still have so many political leaders refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire.
Coco Khan I mean, I remember reading about, you know, your situation. Just to summarize for the listeners, your wife, Nadia’s parents were trapped in Gaza while visiting relatives at the time of the attack by Hamas on Israel on October the 7th. And I just remember thinking, wow, the First Minister, he can’t help his family. That must have been very strange for you. You have power.
Humza Yousaf Utterly, utterly helpless. Utterly helpless. I mean, as you say, you know, by most definitions have the most political power in Scotland. And yet I couldn’t get my in-laws out of a war zone, and that’s me in my position. What hope is there for so many others? And, you know, as and feels like an utterly hopeless situation at times. And look, it’s it’s still a struggle for so many people, that have family there. And that’s why I’ll continue to raise my voice, is people like Lord Camden who say that Scotland shouldn’t be speaking out on, foreign affairs. I think our voice is really important on the world stage. I think the more voices calling for peace, which I still can’t understand how that is controversial in any way, shape or form. I think we have to keep doing that. And what we’re seeing, in Gaza and, the killings that we’re seeing, the children that have been killed. History will judge us very, purely because of the international community’s lack of, response. I have to say.
Coco Khan How has it changed you in terms of your fear for politics? Like, there must have been a moment where you thought, oh, my God, yeah, this is not this system is not going to work to deliver the change I want to see.
Humza Yousaf Well, I think it’s why we need more people, more diverse voices in politics. Because, you know, there have been so few people in the UK context that were political leaders calling for a ceasefire. And, you know, I’m not saying this to, to promote myself, but I think I was probably the first in the UK to call for an immediate ceasefire. And then we had other political leaders thereafter. People excited Khan, who I respect a lot. My opposite number you talked about, I saw a few others, then began to call for a ceasefire. Now, if I hadn’t been in the position I’d be been or Sadc had been in the position he’d been, but would there have been people calling for, for, a ceasefire or not in the UK? I don’t know was the answer to that question, but I think, the more diversity in our voices and our politics is, is only a good thing before.
Nish Kumar We move off the subject. And we so appreciate, you know, obviously with the it’s a life personal situation for you and me. So I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us about this. What is your message to the UK government about its current strategy.
Humza Yousaf That the UK government is? It is a trusted ally of the government of Israel. So I don’t know how much influence they have, but the influence they should be using in exerting is precisely, to ensure that one, the killing stops. But secondly, if you want to see a safe Middle East, a secure Middle East, you don’t do that by killing children. That is going to have a completely counterproductive impact and effect. And I would say to the UK government, I would say to leader of the Labour Party, not only do you risk inflaming the situation in the Middle East, what you risk, if we don’t stop Israel’s action, which has gone beyond a legitimate response, then the ripple effects of that, including here in the UK, could be pretty significant, as well. And we know that, for example, around the community tensions that exist and exist in Scotland. I’m sure they exist right across the UK between communities. And we just need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to bring peace, to, to that region. So I’ll keep calling. For an immediate cease fire. I’ll keep calling out what I see, as a legitimate, action. And we’ll continue to call for the release of, of of, hostages, of course, because families and AG will undoubtedly be grieving and mourning the loved ones still in captivity.
Nish Kumar This came in from @PeteMarshall, with the recent positive conversations being had regarding the Irish border and a possible roadmap for reunification, would successful progress from Stormont? Potentially move the needle on revisiting the issue of getting Scotland away from Westminster? So I mean, obviously well, he’s referring to is the massively consequential need for the UK that after two years of political paralysis, there’s been the return of the powersharing government in Stormont and it’s resulted in Sinn Fein having its first ever elected first minister. Were you kept in the loop about the deal that was going on with the DP?
Humza Yousaf So I can see my special advisers eyes popping out of this question. Pete Marshall so let me, no, at an old fashioned honesty, I wasn’t kept up to date in terms of the deal. We were hearing noises that there was positive discussions going on, and I should say, look, that’s our starting point. Our starting point is we really welcome the return of powersharing in Northern Ireland and the restoration of Stormont and, congratulate, the First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, who I had in house in Edinburgh, a few months ago. And of course, the Deputy First Minister. I’m a little Pengelly as well. So we really welcome that powersharing, being restored. Look, ask for a border poll. And the future of Irish unification. They’re not matters to me or matters of Scotland. They are matters. Absolutely. For, the people of Northern Ireland, to have that discussion and of course, the island of, of, of Ireland. There’s a Good Friday agreement there. Power sharing is a critical key part of that. But, look, I wouldn’t seek to interfere, influence, their discussion. And I wouldn’t expect that to come the other way, either when it comes to the discussion on Scottish independence.
Coco Khan You’re ears must have perked up a bit, though, right? Because, I mean, you mentioned Michelle O’Neill there, Northern Ireland’s first nationalist First Minister. She’s from Sinn Fein. She says that a referendum on a united Ireland could come within ten years, that that would surely boost the independence cause in Scotland. No?
Humza Yousaf Heck yeah, but honestly, I said to her. I said to her, I will answer the question no. And then and oh and ultra again, it will be absolutely for, those, in Northern Ireland to have a discussion about the future of Northern Ireland. It’s not for me, in terms of independence for Scotland. Look, I’m hoping that it comes sooner. We should have than than ten years ago. Wish it came yesterday, in fact. So my job is to try to advance the cause of Scottish independence sooner rather than later.
Coco Khan A question we’ve had in from a listener that puts it quite succinctly. They emailed in to say, with a black hole in the Scottish budget crisis, an NHS crisis in NHS Surrey prison and councils funding, as well as the cost of living crisis, why are the SNP wasting government capacity on constitutional questions rather than the wellbeing of Scottish people? She says thank you and that is Fee from Sterling.
Humza Yousaf Oh, I thought you were going to say it was Asawar with question.
Nish Kumar I said, we don’t know what sock puppet accounts the leader of the Scottish Labour Party is using.
Humza Yousaf Look, a few things I would say to Tiffy. First and foremost, the cost of living crisis, of course, is a Westminster created cost living crisis. It was Westminster that has imposed, what, almost 14 years of austerity? It was the Prime Minister that was outlived by elitist that ended up crashing and torpedoing the UK economy. This a Brexit that none of us voted for or the country didn’t vote for, has been imposed upon us. That has caused such economic damage. So actually, the question of the cost of living crisis is absolutely fundamental to independence. I don’t want independence because, you know, I like to wave flags or shortbread or paint my face with a saltire. The reason I believe in independence is because I think it’s good for our economy and our society and, and our people in terms of the challenges that we face. Again, I’m not going to rebut every single point. But look, Scotland is the only nation in the UK that didn’t have junior doctors or nurses strikes or NHS staff. The reason is because we believe in paying on NHS staff fairly, and our A&E departments are the best performing for the compared to the rest of UK for eight years. The reason for that is because we value our NHS workers and yeah, does that mean we have to make tough choices? And in Scotland, you may have seen I’ve asked the top 5% in the country, people like me who have the most to pay more in tax than perhaps top 5% in other parts of the UK. But if we do that, then those with the biggest shoulders pay the most. And that to me is actually leadership is saying, yeah, there’s challenges there. Let’s invest in our public services and those who are in the most, let’s make them pay that little bit more.
Nish Kumar And I just wanted to ask you specifically about Brexit. Do you think Brexit has been a double edged sword for the SNP? Because on the one hand it changed the terms of membership of the United Kingdom, and certainly I think because Scotland did vote to remain in the European Union, it galvanized a section of Scottish society behind the idea of independence that maybe had been on the fence beforehand. But do you think some of the administrative problems with Brexit have made people cautious about changing the arrangements with your nearest trading partner? Has it has it helped as much as it hurt the SNP?
Humza Yousaf I don’t think so. I completely understand why you ask the question and follow your rationale around all of that, but the independent support is pretty rock solid. So the poll today that I just mentioned is about 53% for. Yes. So, so you know, we’re at 50% above, sometimes just below. So we’re quite solidly 5050. I think the challenge for the SNP independence movement is we’ve we’ve had Boris Johnson, we’ve had less trust, we’ve had Brexit. And actually the deal on independence hasn’t shifted as much as people might expect given the disaster of those three individuals and episodes and UK politics. But that’s probably because I don’t think the the independence movement has done enough. And we’re working on this to say to people, okay, we’re not just saying you should vote, you know, you should vote against these various different factors. Here’s something to vote for. So independence has to be about giving something, giving people something to vote for. I don’t think we’ve quite done that enough. I think we’ve done that in parts, but we’ve not done that. And so we’ve got to galvanize. And that’s why. And again, I would go to all the detail. We’ve published a whole series of papers in detail. And actually, if you vote for independence, here’s the prize. Nobody is saying it’s a land of milk and honey, but actually being able to make decisions for ourselves, ultimately based on our values. That, to me, is a much better future than a UK. That is an absolute decline, complete and utter decline even before Brexit and more so since Brexit.
Nish Kumar Do you think you might be too honest about the challenges that an independent Scotland face? And have you considered lying on the side of a bus?
Humza Yousaf Has anybody ever tried that before and how did it end? No, I honestly it wasn’t I think it’s good to of course, be honest as much as you possibly can with people, but I think people also just wouldn’t believe if if I sat here and said to you, you know, independence is going to resolve every single problem you’ve had. We’ll have, you know, there’ll be no more challenges with the NHS and education will be the top of the international league tables. You just won’t believe it and neither should you believe it. So I think we’ve got to be honest. But I actually say equally there’s huge opportunity, massive opportunity, and all we have to do is look at the evidence around us. Ireland, Norway, Denmark all got no better productivity. Many of them have got national incomes higher per head than the UK. Lower inequality. So why not Scotland, particularly with all the resources we’ve got. So, no, I don’t think I’m too honest. I think we should continue it to be honest as much as we possibly can. And, I think more politicians probably can take a page out of that book.
Coco Khan I guess the question is always but how? Like, how would leaving the UK not put Scotland into the same position that the UK had by leaving the EU? The same weaknesses. Just for clarity, that’s not from me. That’s from Lewis Dunn, one of our listeners on X, formerly Twitter.
Humza Yousaf D Ross. The Scottish Conservative. I knew it was him. No. Again, for me, I suppose the big differences, first and foremost, we would then have unfettered access to market at seven times the size of the UK. It’s a huge market, the world’s biggest single market, and we would still continue to trade with the rest of the UK. There’s no doubt about that. And of course, we do everything in our powers and we’ve produced a paper of missile. Could I go into all the details of it? But everything in our powers to make sure that any light touch regulation or custom check that has to happen over the border with the rest of UK is as as light touches as possible.
Nish Kumar Before I ask you this question, I just want you to know that this is a variation of a question we get asked every week about the Labour Party, and normally by someone from the demographic age was that this person comes from. It’s been emailed in by Sandy Malcolm. I’m a young Scot. Brackets 22 who supports independence more deeply about the climate crisis. I was not able to vote against Brexit or for Scottish independence due to being slightly too young. I have voted SNP wherever possible, but for the first time I’m considering switching to the Scottish Greens. Why should I vote SNP?
Humza Yousaf Yeah, and I think a really legitimate question to point to, to to scrutinize the SNP on first thing to say, of course, that we are in a co-operation agreement with the Green Party. So the Green Party members are ministers in my government as well. So we worked really closely with the Greens. I think the differences, particularly in a general election. I think the Greens would be the absolute first to admit that they’re not going to win a single general election seat in Scotland, not even close to winning a general election seat in Scotland. So if you want to make sure that we send out a message to Westminster and if we don’t send an SNP MPs to Westminster, Scotland gets ignored. So what I would say is that not only are we taking credible action on climate change, and there’s always more we can do world leading, targets, of course, and we’re investing in that, that transition to renewable technology as part of the just transition to net zero. But if you want Scots voice to be heard, vote for the SNP. Because in every single conservative seat in Scotland to be our second place where we could make Scotland Tory free. And of course, which which would be a great prize. But of course, as I say, even in those seats, that we already hold a strong contingency of SNP MPs is needed to make sure our country is not ignored.
Nish Kumar Talking about making Scotland Tory free speech suggests you know how to butter up our listenership. But I just want to talk to you about your relation with the other big political party at the United Kingdom, with the Labour Party. There are some polls that have been neck and neck, with, Labour in Scotland. Obviously, you’ve referred to the poll that gives you a think, a seven point lead. The eminent political analyst, Sir John Curtis, has predicted that you could even end up with the same number of seats. Is that something that concerns you?
Humza Yousaf Well, first of all, when you said you were going to talk to me about the other big political force, Newcastle, you’re going to talk to me about popcorn. Of course. But but clearly, clearly, that hasn’t shaken your very foundations in the same way that it has up here in Scotland. In terms of Labour Party.
Nish Kumar Listen, it’s the worst named thing. You know, you could call yourselves popular conservatives all you want. If I change my name to Jay Z, I’m not married to Beyonce. Like that’s not how anything works.
Humza Yousaf No, indeed. Indeed did. Being led by the least popular politician, I think in the entire UK, who’s, as I say, it lasted by lettuce is, is, you know, a level of, lacking self-awareness I don’t think I’ve ever seen. But the serious point to your question. Is Labour our our biggest challenge up here in Scotland? Point pretending, otherwise, we’ve got to work hard. General elections traditionally for the SNP are being really tough. I mean, it was only post the independence referendum. Did we start winning big in general elections. If you go pre 2014, we only ever had a handful of seats six MPs, five MP, seven MPs. So we were we were never big winners in general elections. So what we’ve got to do is work exceptionally hard to make sure that we become the party that wins generation. I’ve got every confidence. I have to say that the SNP will win the general election whenever it’s held.
Coco Khan You’ve said that, you have no doubt that Keir Starmer will be the next Prime Minister. And I know you’ve appealed to him to have some discussions about how you can work together. Were you surprised to have your invitation rebuffed?
Humza Yousaf He doesn’t write. He doesn’t call.
Coco Khan He’s left you on read?
Humza Yousaf Yeah. Has he has it completely. No. So I’ve not thought I had a responsibility. Right? I’m afraid. Disappointed in in Kier. Keir and I have had a couple of conversations over the last few months, mainly in passing, at different events. Cop 28. He was there, and I was there. And again, just a brief kind of five minute, chat. And he said, you know, really want to make sure that if I’m in, then I respect devolution. And, you know, you’ll see a difference in approach. But he’s not demonstrated that. Yeah. And I. Those of the beliefs that even though our politics may differ, there’s a lot of things we can talk about we should talk about. For me, the real tragedy of Keir Starmer is you’ve got somebody who’s 20 to 25 points ahead in the polls, and his main tactic is to try to create a manifesto that, in Labour’s words, is totally bomb proof. So it’s just a lining. So a time when you should be bold, you should be radical because you’ve got such a strong lead in the polls. You’re coming in and presenting, just complete banality. And, you know, if I give you an example where I think you could work together the two child limit in terms of the benefits here is a policy that is keeping 250,000 children across the UK in poverty. Anti-Poverty charities tell you just that one measure. Lifting that one measure lifts a quarter of a million children, including quite significant numbers in Scotland, I think around 17,000 that in Scotland, out of poverty, it’s almost at the drop of a hat. And yet he is refusing to commit to do that. And it’s, for me, just not just tragic but unforgivable. So what I’m saying to Keir Starmer, come and have a chat. We’ll support you with the MPs we’ve got will support you around the Green Prosperity Fund, because not only is that the right thing to do by the climate, it’s a huge economic opportunity for Scotland. I know the real reason why most of you didn’t come to Scotland is because it’s quite windy. But that was just good for us up here in terms of our offshore wind capacity. So huge economic opportunity. But we’re not seeing anything from Keir Starmer that demonstrates a man who’s willing to demonstrate leadership or show leadership just wants to get the keys to number ten. And goodness knows what he’ll when he’s there.
Coco Khan And how about with Rishi Sunak then? Have you. Are you getting on?
Humza Yousaf Again. Pushing button after button to try to push me into a very difficult response. No, look, there’s no, there’s no there’s no personal relationship there, I have to say. I remember my first conversation, Rishi Sunak.
Coco Khan So he’s ghosting you too? Just for clarity.
Humza Yousaf Yeah I know. In fairness to Rishi Sunak, we’ve had, a number of, of meetings and conversations. But I do remember the first one that we had was telephone call had just become First Minister. And, you know, I thought just to kind of break the ice, you know, and speak about the common heritage we’ve got and the background that we’ve got. And look, you know, obviously there’s disagreements, Prime Minister, between us. But, you know, I think it’s an important moment that you became the prime minister as a person of color. And it was just not I was like, okay, let’s talk about, you know, business support, the positive tone scheme. And so I felt right. We’re we’re we’re not going to be having a nice cozy chat to begin with. And the second thing it was very clear from that first phone call was how quickly he wanted off the phone. I did have a of a list of about six different things that are going to raise these issues with you. We need to talk about as well. But, you know, he just wanted off the call. So no, there’s there’s genuinely no I’m afraid there’s no personal, relationship, which is, is is not, not the big issue, but. Yeah, professionally, I think the less you can see of me probably fumes, the better.
Coco Khan Nothing’s going to be helped by the First Minister and the Prime Minister not getting on. Right. That’s going to be bad in any iteration, whether in independent Scotland or not. So it is quite crucial.
Humza Yousaf To an extent. I mean, you don’t have to be best pals. I think if you’re just able to to show a bit of humanity, I’ll give you an example. And this is in fairness to Keir Starmer, you know, what we were going through, what was a really difficult time that you’ve already touched upon with my in-laws being in Gaza? You know, Keir Starmer, in fairness to him, reached out and picked up the phone and said politics aside, really thinking about you and your family. My thoughts are with you and the thoughts of Labour Party with you and for me personally to see that not just put out a statement. And I thought that’s look, that’s a decent mark of, of or of an individual, whereas, you know, nothing from the Prime Minister. And actually at the time, the Foreign Secretary had to be shamed into talking to me and given the number of media interviews, where I was asked if James Cleverly had been in touch and I said he’s not, and he was ultimately shamed into picking up the phone to me. So I think we’ll get the basic kind of common humanity. It doesn’t cost us anything.
Nish Kumar The only vague positive I can take from that is I previously did not believe James Cleverly had the capacity for shame. So actually, that’s not that’s not a bad thing to hear. We have a very engaged, yes, well read, well-informed listenership, but some of them have also possible relaxed questions of you. If you weren’t in politics, what job would you have? That’s from Clara McCabe. And I would tag on to that question. I assume it’s got to be something to do. It sounds like football club.
Humza Yousaf Yes. I mean, other than being chairman of that club, which would, of course be, what I would be doing if I wasn’t in politics. You know, this is associations too, right? When I was growing up, you’ve either to be a doctor, dentist, pharmacist, accountant, a lawyer. Yeah, but it was one of those. And I always thought I’d end up being a lawyer. And the fact that I put it down to my. What we call the Ucas form, the university entrance form here, I put on law and all of the options except the last one. I snuck in politics and I got into both law and politics. And I remember as a serious conversation I had to have with my parents my association. Lovely disappearance to tell them. By the way, I’m not going to do law. I want to do politics. And I’ve kind of braced myself for the the inevitable slipper that was coming. But it didn’t come. And parents were exceptionally poor. So, so, so then so long answer to the short question is probably would have been something to do with this with a law and.
Nish Kumar First Minister. Cry me a fucking river. I have a conversation about being a stand up comedian.
Humza Yousaf And that’s why they still don’t talk to you.
Coco Khan Okay, okay. Okay. So, what are some other jobs you’ve had outside of politics? The worse, the better. Please.
Humza Yousaf All right. So, mainly call center jobs, and. But I also worked my very first job was working in the sixth floor of a dusty, closed cash and caddy, getting paid 2.05 pence an hour. But you had this. You had this left to you. It was a sixth floor. You had a left. We had to take the boxes of socks and pants and all these things up to the sixth floor. And it was not a left, not, not a not a library left. You had to wind it up by hand. And because I did this for about three months.
Coco Khan You’re not that old mate, what is this story from 1974.
Humza Yousaf I was actually 13 in the summer, summer holidays, only two months, I think it was of doing this. I had the right bicep for Popeye and, the left arm, which was like a string beans. So I came out with this huge bicep in my right hand. Having wound up this left, for the best part of eight weeks and nothing on the left hand, which was.
Coco Khan Everyone’s like, why is Humza always sideways on?
Nish Kumar Now, I will say this, there’s probably different reasons people think a 13 year old boy has a stronger hand than one.
Humza Yousaf No, no, it’s always what there’s always one in the cart with Nish.
Coco Khan Always. The final word does go to our listener, Kheerat Randhawa, who writes on Instagram. No questions, but please let him know he’s gorgeous. How does that feel?
Humza Yousaf That’s my mum. So that’s my mum’s sock puppet account. Aw, thanks mum. That’s very kind.
Coco Khan Listen, first Minister, thank you so much for your time. We very much appreciate it. We do want to say the UK, but you’re always welcome.
Humza Yousaf Thank you very much. That’s really good chatting to you. Thanks, guys.
Nish Kumar Thanks, guys. Thank you so much. First Minister Humza Yousaf.
Humza Yousaf Thank you.
Nish Kumar You might’ve heard that former US President Trump was ordered to pay $83.3 million in damages after a huge defeat in his most recent defamation trial.
Coco Khan On Crooked’s legal part strict scrutiny. Host Kate Shaw, Leah Littman and Melissa Murray speak to the woman awarded that’s E.Jean Carroll and her lawyer Roberta Kaplan, on a special bonus episode.
Nish Kumar You can listen to this episode out now on the Strict Scrutiny feed.
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Nish Kumar Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.
Coco Khan Thanks to senior producer Musty Aziz and digital producer Alex Bishop.
Nish Kumar Video editing was by Narda Smilionage. And the music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.
Coco Khan Thanks to our engineer David DuGahey.
Nish Kumar The executive producers are Anoushka Sharma, Dan Jackson and Madeleine Herringer with additional support from Ari Schwartz.
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