Scotland is one of the smallest countries in the world but you would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know that last month Humza Yousaf became the first Muslim to be elected as a leader in Western Europe.
You’d also have to live somewhere very remote to be unaware his political party, the Scottish National Party (SNP), was plunged into chaos within hours of his appointment as Police Scotland conducted a raid on the home of his predecessor, former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, as well as the party’s headquarters in Edinburgh.
Her unexpected resignation as the leader of the Scottish Government was widely reported around the world but the speculation over her departure gave way to euphoria in large parts of Scotland’s vibrant Muslim community who support the country’s independence movement.
However, one of the most powerful Muslim political pressure groups in the UK reckons his appointment is not a cause for celebration. The Muslim Public Affairs Committee, MPACUK has accused Yousaf of wanting “to break Scotland away from England’s chains, yet denies the same right for Palestine”.
In a damning article on its website, MPACUK wrote: “As the new leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, he is supposed to embody their mission objective, ‘a fair society where no-one is left behind’. But if Yousaf is not willing to call out an unjust society when he sees one, it calls into question either his integrity or his intelligence; whichever is found to be deficient, it spells poor leadership from the new First Minister.”
The unjust society referred to by the group is Israel which has also been called an “apartheid state” by US President Jimmy Carter as well as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and Israeli-run B’Tselem .
Researchers in the group unearthed media claims going back to May 2014 in which Yousaf publicly stated “Israel is not an apartheid state.” Two months later Israel massacred over 2,100 Palestinians in one of its many wars in the Gaza Strip. Thanks to the silent complicity of politicians like Humza Yousaf the story barely made headlines in Western media.
I should declare an interest at this stage as I was a member of the SNP back then and shared platforms with Yousaf and Sturgeon to promote the case for independence. Back in 2021 I left, disillusioned, to join the ALBA Party formed by another former First Minister Alex Salmond whose Palestinian supporting credentials have been well documented by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC).
And so, returning to Yousaf’s unseemly support for Israel, he is quoted as saying: “I can give you the Scottish Government’s vow that it is our policy not to boycott Israel…” and he went on to admit the SNP’s position on the Middle East “doesn’t vary much from the UK Government.”
I did write to him at the time and warned him that Palestinian supporters in the SPSC would never forgive or forget what they saw as a betrayal of the Palestinian people.
I do wonder if he has changed his position since then, and, if so, then he must tell us. The change could’ve been influenced by his second wife, Nadia El-Nakla, who is also an SNP politician and a local councillor, who just happens to be Palestinian. She is undoubtedly proud of her Palestinian roots and her family still resides in Gaza.
Humza certainly found his voice when the Zionist State launched a brutal bombardment on Palestinians in Ramadan of 2021. In newspaper articles he was critical of the violence which threatened the lives of his in-laws in Gaza and said he would “pray and hope they are alive in the morning” – that hope specifically being that “the international community intervenes and actually tackles the root of this conflict.”
This statement incurred the wrath of MPACUK which demanded: “Intervenes how, Yousaf? Tackle what root of the conflict? You have already indicated you will not hold Israel accountable. You refuse to stand for Palestine – can you really be trusted to stand for Scotland?”
Mick Napier, co-founder of SPSC, said: “As a first step, we urge the new First Minister to reaffirm the 2014 call from the Scottish Government, repeated in 2015, for an arms embargo on Israel.”
“He also needs to recognise that all major human rights groups have created a situation where sticking to his denial that Israel is an apartheid state will cut him off from progressive currents in Scotland. He will find that he can never placate the pro-Israel lobby except by praising Israeli crimes and condemning those who resist its barbarism against the Palestinian people. He can easily find out the depth of depravity of Israeli crimes but if he’s too busy he can just call his family in Gaza and get them to point their phones at the drones above, grey warships patrolling the shore, or the wall with robot machine guns keeping them under constant surveillance.”
Napier’s and MPACUK’s cutting observations will pile on more pressure on the under-fire First Minister who stands accused of supporting the oppressive state and, even worse, to the detriment of his own family. He won the leadership contest in a closely fought battle with female politicians Kate Forbes and Ash Regan under the ticket of being the “continuity candidate”.
But as critics have already pointed out, as long as Humza Yousaf is viewed as an ally to Israel, he cannot be a champion of independence.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.