Iain Macwhirter Iain Macwhirter

Humza Yousaf’s attempts to woo Scottish business have fallen flat

(Photo by Fraser Bremner - Pool/Getty Images)

The latest shock to hit the nationalist blogosphere is the revelation that the First Minister Humza Yousaf has recently broken bread with the billionaire Sir Brian Souter, the Stagecoach bus magnate. The encounter took place at a prayer breakfast last month and is regarded by some as a sign that Yousaf is trying to build bridges with the business community.

No one knows what transpired in Yousaf’s meeting with the independence-supporting philanthropist. It may simply have been an attempt by the First Minister, a practising Muslim, to show his ecumenicism. Souter, after all, attends the evangelical Church of the Nazarene in his home town of Perth. However, there may also have been a more pecuniary motivation for the head-to-head.

Souter used to be one of the SNP’s biggest donors, contributing at least £1 million to SNP coffers before 2014, at which point Nicola Sturgeon became leader. He hasn’t contributed a penny to the party since then. Indeed, the SNP has managed to alienate nearly all of its wealthy supporters. As The Spectator reported last month, the SNP hasn’t had a significant donation from a living person since 2021. Those it has received have been bequests from SNP supporters who’ve passed away. This has left the party increasingly dependent on public money and subscriptions from its dwindling membership base. This is in contrast to the party under Sturgeon’s predecessor: business-friendly Alex Salmond, a former economist for the Royal Bank of Scotland, managed to attract over £8.2 million in donations from individuals and companies in the seven years he served as First Minister.

This donor drought may not be unconnected with the fact the SNP has hardly enamoured itself with the business community since Salmond stood down. Sturgeon showed little interest in the private sector, though she went through the motions, and was clearly more concerned with redistribution of wealth than its creation with measures like the Scottish child payment and free childcare.

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Written by
Iain Macwhirter

Iain Macwhirter is a former BBC TV presenter and was political commentator for The Herald between 1999 and 2022. He is an author of Road to Referendum and Disunited Kingdom: How Westminster Won a Referendum but Lost Scotland.

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