MSPs confirm Yousaf's independence and 'transgender laydees' ministers
HUMZA Yousaf has had his new Government line-up approved by MSPs amid controversy over two ministerial appointments.
The First Minister was criticised for appointing a dedicated minister for independence, while no longer having ministers with social security or tourism in their titles.
Jamie Hepburn will report directly to Mr Yousaf and operate as a backroom ‘fixer’ across the government to improve cooperation on the SNP’s prime objective.
Mr Yousaf was also accused of flawed judgment for appointing a minister who infamously joked about “hairy knuckled lipstick-wearing transgender laydees”.
In a blog written before she became an MSP in 2016, Gillian Martin also gave advice on tipping “American Jews” and “American Blacks”, saying the latter were “to be avoided”.
She previously lost out on a ministerial job in 2018 after the remarks came to light.
However Mr Yousaf said Ms Martin had apologised to him when he asked her to be his minister for energy, and that she had “been on a journey”.
The pair were among 18 junior ministers Mr Yousaf appointed in addition to his 10-member cabinet, as he created the biggest government seen under devolution.
In a set-piece debate before MSPs voted 71 to 56 to confirm the appointments, Mr Yousaf said: “It’s a refreshed line-up for a new era of Government.
“As we look to the challenges of the future, it’s very much a changing of the guard.”
READ MORE: Yousaf's judgment under fire over 'transgender laydees' minister
Mr Yousaf also kept the Bute House joint government deal with the Scottish Greens alive, with co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater retaining their ministerial roles.
He said they were “absolutely the right appointments to make” because of “the fact that it upsets some in this chamber so much”.
Tory MSP Craig Hoy said the team were “failed continuity ministers, appointed by a failed continuity First Minister”.
Referring to Mr Yousaf’s departed SNP leadership rival, he added: “Kate Forbes was correct – continuity won’t cut it, but it is continuity that is running through the core of his Cabinet.”
Labour MSP Neil Bibby said the Cabinet was “team Nicola [Sturgeon], without Nicola”, noting there were more Green ministers than supporters of Ms Forbes or Ash Regan.
Only Siobhian Brown, the new community safety minister, backed Ms Forbes’s candidacy.
Mr Bibby said that after 5,810 days of the SNP being in power the change Scotland needed was not bigger government but better government.
Green MSP Gillian Mackay urged all ministers and MSPs to be more respectful in debate.
She said: “By all means, scrutinise and debate where things have gone wrong, but talk about the ideas and argue why yours is better, not why you believe someone is any of the things that have been attributed to members of this Parliament in recent weeks.”
Earlier, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross attacked Mr Yousaf at FMQs over his minister for independence, calling Mr Hepburn a “taxpayer-funded nationalist campaigner”.
Mr Ross said Mr Yousaf had “promised to be the First Minister for all of Scotland” and had “failed in his first big test”.
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He said: “This is the largest Government since devolution, with more ministers than ever before. But key ministerial posts relating to social security and tourism were abolished, yet a new minister for independence was created.
“Does the First Minister really believe appointing a taxpayer-funded nationalist campaigner is governing for all of Scotland?”
Mr Yousaf replied: “I make no apology whatsoever for having a minister for independence. My goodness, we need independence now more than ever before.
“We need it now more than ever before, because in energy-rich Scotland we have Scots that are fuel poor because of the UK Government’s policies.
“We need independence now more than ever before because we have more food banks in this country than at any other time than ever before because of over a decade of austerity.
“So I would say to Douglas Ross, to the UK Government, we will continue to advocate and advance independence, because we need it now more than ever before.”
Mr Ross claimed Mr Yousaf was “looking for a fight” with Westminster, telling him he had to realise “independence is not a priority for people across Scotland right now”.
He said: “He has stuffed his Cabinet full of his predecessor’s lackeys, ministers with almost as poor a track record in Government as he has.
“He squeaked a win [in the SNP leadership] and then forced the former finance secretary Kate Forbes and her supporters out of Government in an act of petty vengeance.
“And now to shore up his position in his feuding party, he is back pushing independence because it is the only thing that unites the SNP.
“In these difficult times, Scotland needs a Government focused on the real priorities of people across Scotland and the big challenges we face.
“Yet we have one that is at war with itself and focused upon engineering further division.”
Mr Yousaf said he was “delighted to have appointed a Cabinet and a ministerial team that will build upon the legacy” of Ms Sturgeon and her deputy FM John Swinney.
He dismissed Mr Ross as being a “third rate politician leading a third rate party”.
Speaking to the media after FMQs, Mr Yousaf said: “Gillian Martin knows my position in relation to those remarks.
“I've got a really strong track record of standing up against bigotry of any sort.
“She has apologised for those remarks, She apologised to me also for those remarks when we had a discussion about her appointment.
“Gillian has been on a journey, and I think if you look at, for example, her fulsome support of the GRR [Gender Recognition Reform] Bill it shows the journey that she has been on.”
But Scottish Tory MSP Annie Wells said: “Putting Gillian Martin forward for a ministerial role calls into question Humza Yousaf’s judgment.
“He’s clearly ready to cast aside her beyond-the-pale comments that came to light the last time she looked set to join the ministerial payroll.
“Humza Yousaf is continuing to rapidly lose credibility over his cabinet and ministerial appointments – whether it is appointing failed ministers or ones that have previously been shown to be unsuitable.”
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, added: “The appointment of a taxpayer-funded minister for separation is an insult to the people of Scotland and demonstrates the warped priorities of the new First Minister.
“Humza Yousaf promised to act in the ‘interests of all our citizens’, but he has already failed his first test. The idea of creating this post was nothing but a desperate campaign tactic to appeal to hardcore SNP activists.
“It’s time for the people’s priorities, not the SNP’s."