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Humza Yousaf hopes for fresh start as Holyrood returns to hear his agenda

The Dundee-based first minister will set out his government priorities, from local challenges in Tayside and Fife to national flashpoints with Westminster.

Humza Yousaf SNP Dundee
First Minister Humza Yousaf at a school in Dundee on Thursday - but will he get a similar reception at Holyrood? Image: PA

First Minister Humza Yousaf will set out his government’s priorities and send a clear signal about how he’ll govern Scotland as parliament returns from its summer break tomorrow.

With his first weeks in the top job dominated by the arrest of Nicola Sturgeon, the Dundee-based leader will hope a fresh parliamentary term will allow the government to refocus.

Insiders admit the police probe into SNP finances has proven a “distraction”, with many hoping it would have progressed over the summer.

One source said: “It can be distracting but [the first minister] has had a positive summer, especially with a series visits across Scotland to hear from people directly.”

As well as hoping to set his own agenda, a number of long-running problems remain.

They include a looming court battle with the UK Government over its decision to block the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack blocked the GRR Bill. Image: PA.

Any loss in the courts would be seen as a political hit but could also provide the government a chance to take a fresh approach to reform with clearer boundaries on what is constitutionally possible.

A long-promised update on the commitment to dual the A9 from Perth to Inverness – first promised by Alex Salmond in 2008 – is also expected in the programme for government.

Credibly setting out how the massive project will be delivered is likely to be seen as a key test for the government.

On these issues Mr Yousaf will also have to lead SNP MSPs who have shown a willingness to rebel and speak frankly about their disagreements with the party leadership.

Former SNP minister Fergus Ewing.
Former SNP minister Fergus Ewing. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Former minister Fergus Ewing has been strongly critical of the power-sharing deal struck between his party and the Scottish Greens under Nicola Sturgeon, as well as openly criticising policies such as the new licensing regime for short-term rental properties.

But one of those who supported Mr Yousaf in the leadership contest played down any idea of disunity among SNP MSPs, insisting it was being “overstated”.

“There would have been even more division under Kate [Forbes] or Ash [Regan] – most MSPs did not support them,” they added.

Local matters

In Tayside and Fife, MSPs will also hope to make progress on issues they want to tackle locally.

Dunfermline MSP Shirley-Anne Sommerville told The Courier: “The focus must not only be on economic growth and tourism however; we need to ensure that improved wellbeing and quality of life is a key priority.

“Clearly, there are still real concerns over the cost of living within our communities and greater challenges lie ahead in the coming months.

Dunfermline SNP MSP Shirley-Anne Sommerville MSP.
Shirley-Anne Sommerville MSP. Image: Steven MacDougall/DC Thomson.

“That will make vital support like the Scottish Child Payment – which has already benefitted over 24,000 children across Fife – even more crucial.”

Claire Baker, a Scottish Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, also highlighted tackling inequality as key.

“We are still feeling the effects of the pandemic and our local communities need help to recover. Our high streets need support so they can transform into thriving places to be and we need to see support for local, quality employment.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Maurice Golden said Mr Yousaf can’t afford to allow problems inside his party to distract government.

‘Scotland can’t afford distractions’

The North East representative said: “The SNP hasn’t had its troubles to seek, and there are more problems coming down the track.

“Scotland can’t afford for those distractions to interfere with the running of our country.”

Mr Golden said he would be looking closely at environmental policies set out in the government’s programme.

The Dundee-based MSP said: “Given the state of the devolved areas under direct SNP-Green control, this is probably the most important programme for government there has ever been in Holyrood.

“That will mean brave interventions on vital areas like health, education and the economy.

“It’s essential that Humza Yousaf gets his environmental policies right.

“He needs to come up with a programme which protects the environment without hurting businesses or inflicting unnecessary pain on hardworking Scots.

“There are a number of positive measures he could pursue in relation to climate change which would boost the economy and bring the public along with him.”