Kate Forbes rejects ‘insulting’ offer to serve under Humza Yousaf
Humza Yousaf has been accused of “pouring petrol” on the SNP’s civil war after Kate Forbes rejected his “insulting” offer of a demotion to serve in his Cabinet.
Insiders said the new First Minister had offered his leadership rival, whom he only narrowly beat in the race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon, the role of Rural Affairs Secretary.
But Ms Forbes viewed this as too much of a downgrade from her previous role as Finance Secretary and was expected to return to Holyrood’s backbenches.
Her rejection leaves his efforts to heal the deep split in the party following the acrimonious leadership contest in disarray, with her allies angry and disillusioned by his offer.
Alex Neil, a former SNP cabinet minister who backed her, suggested that Mr Yousaf had sought to humiliate his former rival by offering her a lesser post. He tweeted: “An insult and not a real effort to unite. A poor start.”
Other close allies accused Mr Yousaf of trying to “trap” Ms Forbes in the rural affairs brief, as she would be forced to defend a series of green policies that she savagely attacked during the leadership campaign.
In a second announcement that threatened to ramp up the SNP’s civil war, Mr Yousaf said the minister who was in charge of Ms Sturgeon’s highly divisive self-ID gender reforms would be his Deputy First Minister.
He said Shona Robison, one of Ms Sturgeon’s closest allies, would fill the key post. She intervened during the contest to launch an outspoken attack on Ms Forbes for “trashing” the Scottish Government’s record.
Ms Robison faced criticism from feminist campaigners, who accused her of refusing to engage with valid concerns as she steered the Gender Recognition Reform Bill through Holyrood. Ms Forbes said she would have voted against it had she not been on maternity leave.
On a difficult first day in office, Mr Yousaf then suffered a further blow after Rishi Sunak rejected his demand for another independence referendum in a phone call congratulating him on becoming First Minister.
The Scottish Tories said Ms Forbes rejecting the offer of a Cabinet demotion demonstrated that Mr Yousaf’s attempt to “reunite their feuding party is doomed to failure”.
‘Poured petrol on the civil war’
Craig Hoy, Scottish Tory chairman, said: “On day one as First Minister, Humza Yousaf has poured petrol on the SNP civil war. The reality is the SNP are divided from top to bottom.”
He said Ms Robison’s appointment was the “surest sign yet” that Mr Yousaf was “doubling down” on his plans to go to court to try and overturn a UK government veto of the gender reforms.
Mr Yousaf was under pressure to hand Ms Forbes a top post after he only defeated her by a margin of 51.2 per cent to 47.9 per cent in the leadership contest, following the elimination of the other candidate, Ash Regan.
Sources close to the 32-year-old confirmed that she had turned down the rural affairs brief and would now return to the backbenches.
They insisted that she had an “amicable” conversation with the new First Minister and denied claims that she had told Mr Yousaf “where to stick” his offer of a demotion.
“Kate has a young family and wants to return to the backbenches,” they said. “She had a genuinely very amicable conversation with Humza but let him know that she did not want to be considered for any other cabinet roles.”
Ms Forbes tweeted: “To the great credit of @humzayousaf the first official convo he had after Monday’s result was with me.
“He has been respectful, supportive & warm throughout. In whatever capacity I serve, I’ll support him. P.s. after 5 long weeks, I’ll be delighted to see more of my family!”
But another close ally said: “It looked like a move not just to demote her but to entrap her with policies she didn’t agree with while binding her with collective responsibility.”
Sources close to Mr Yousaf said the First Minister and his Finance Secretary had to be “on the same page” about the direction of the Scottish Government, whereas Ms Forbes was not.
Mr Yousaf tweeted about his phone call with the Prime Minister, saying they had “a constructive discussion on a range of issues, including helping people through the cost-of-living crisis”.
Referring to his independence referendum demands, he said: “I also made clear that I expect the democratic wishes of Scotland’s people and Parliament to be respected by the UK Government.”
Downing Street insiders said: “The First Minister raised points around the constitution but the Prime Minister was clear that they shouldn’t distract from delivering on the things that are top of the priority list for people across Scotland.”
Labour took out full-page adverts in Scottish newspapers as part of a new charm offensive designed to capitalise on SNP turmoil.