HUMZA Yousaf is potentially facing a rebel group of 15 SNP MSPs in Holyrood, the Herald on Sunday has been told.

Its members are understood to be mostly parliamentarians who backed the former finance secretary Kate Forbes' leadership bid but insiders say it also includes some who publicly endorsed Mr Yousaf.

They say they will seek to actively engage with business and believe the relationship between government and the sector needs to be "reset". They plan to publish their own set of policy papers on jobs and the economy which they will present to ministers and hope the documents will lead to constructive discussions.

Central beliefs of the grouping were key planks of Ms Forbes's leadership campaign: raising money to tackle poverty, improving public services and advancing the independence cause by building a more prosperous Scotland.


Insiders say members of the new grouping, who regard themselves as "business-friendly", will look to amend government legislation if they believe it does not align with these goals.

"There is no intention to routinely vote against everything for the sake of it. But we will be able to carefully scrutinise policy positions and add our voice to get better outcomes and we will do that. None of this is being anti anything. We want to make things better," said the source.

"The SNP has historically had legendary discipline where people even haven't asked questions. It is that that is changing and I would say that cannot be a bad thing if you get to better policy outcomes."

READ MORE: Ivan McKee hits back at claims he quit as he didn't get Cabinet job

It is understood that SNP MSPs who did not support the Scottish Government's Gender Recognition Reform Bill and those who have been critical of the deposit return scheme are among the members.

Asked about the size of the new group and whether there could be as many as ten, the source said: "More than that. I would say more like 15."

The insider added there were nine SNP MSPs who did not support the GRRB and said that the group has grown by the addition of former ministers and a number of MSPs who backed Mr Yousaf's leadership bid.

Put to the source that the group would be seen by others in the SNP as social and/or economic conservatives, the politician said: "Absolutely not and I don't understand how the party got ourselves in such a fankle that the importance of raising money for public services became right wing....We saw in the 2014 referendum people made their choices based on how they thought of Scotland's economy under independence. That has not changed."

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On the future of oil and gas, they said: "For a just transition to occur you need to allow sufficient time and have an active focus on building the infrastructure and supply chains and resilience to allow turning off oil and gas and turning on renewables."

While the insider underlined the members of the grouping wish to make a positive contribution to the party, its emergence will raise further questions over unity in the SNP with splits exposed during a fractious leadership contest.

After winning the leadership race on Monday, Mr Yousaf stressed the need for unity.

“Where there are divisions to heal we must do so and do so quickly,” he said.

Mr Yousaf faced a difficult start to his new career as First Minister after narrowly winning the SNP leadership contest on Monday.

The Herald:

Newly elected First Minister of Scotland Humza Yousaf, with deputy First Minister Shona Robison (second right), chairs his first meeting of the Scottish Cabinet, at Bute House in Edinburgh. Friday March 31, 2023. Photo: Russell Cheyne/PA.

His nearest rival in the race former finance secretary Ms Forbes resigned from the government on Tuesday after being offered the role of rural affairs secretary while her ally Ivan McKee quit as business and trade minister on Wednesday.

Mr Yousaf also sacked the party's deputy leader Keith Brown from his Cabinet role of justice secretary.

The Glasgow Pollok MSP named just one supporter of Ms Forbes - Siobhain Brown - as part of his 28 strong team of ministers despite stressing a need to heal divisions.

As the SNP had no majority in Holyrood, under the former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon the party struck the Bute House Agreement with the Scottish Greens in August 2021.

The power-sharing deal gave the Greens two junior ministerial positions in return for the party's seven MSPs backing the minority SNP administration on key votes.

READ MORE: SNP MSP hits out at Greens as he calls for end to powersharing deal

Under the arrangement the Scottish Greens are obliged to support the SNP in any motion of confidence and on the Budget.

However, some SNP MSPs have had concerns that some policies have been driven by the smaller pro-independence party to the detriment of the SNP's standing among the public. These include the deposit return scheme and the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

Backbench rebellions are almost unheard of in the SNP.

However, last year the party experienced its biggest ever revolt when nine of its MSPs refused to back the government over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which lowered the age at which someone could change their legal gender, shortened the length of time required to live in the acquired gender and removed the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

Mr Yousaf is expected to deliver his legislative plans for the remaining parliamentary term when Holyrood returns after the Easter recess in mid April.

One flashpoint with the rebels could be over legislative plans to introduce Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) which would see fishing banned from large areas off the Scottish coast raising the prospect of major job losses in these communities. 

Under devolution, Holyrood has the power to introduce HPMAs in inshore waters - up to 12 nautical miles from the coast.

Published in December last year, the Scottish Government consultation on HPMAs noted it was also seeking powers from the UK Government to provide for powers for ministers in Holyrood to designate HPMAs in Scottish offshore waters. 

The policy is contained in the Bute House Agreement which commits to adding to "the existing MPA network by designating a world-leading suite of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) covering at least 10 per cent of our seas that: includes designations in both offshore and inshore waters; exceeds the commitment to ‘strict protection’ by 2030 made in the EU biodiversity strategy by achieving this by 2026 for inshore waters... and, subject to the cooperation of the UK Government, by the same year for offshore waters (where the Scottish Parliament does not have legislative competence)."

Meanwhile, in a further concern for Mr Yousaf a new poll published yesterday suggested the SNP's lead over Labour was narrowing.

In terms of Westminster voting intentions, the SNP vote dropped by three points to 39 per cent, with Labour's vote increasing by one point to 33 per cent.

The survey by Savanta for The Scotsman of 1,009 people between March 28 and 31, the first to be conducted since the end of the SNP leadership contest, shows the First Minister's approval rating among the public increasing by six percentage points to a net of -12 per cent, although he remains behind his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon, who boasts a net rating of 10 per cent, and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar (-1 per cent) and Ms Forbes (-2 per cent).

Among SNP voters, Mr Yousaf's popularity soared compared to the previous poll in February, increasing by 19 percentage points to a net of 20 per cent, while Ms Forbes approval rating dropped 15 points to 5 per cent.

A spokesperson for Mr Yousaf said: "Humza Yousaf won the backing of the majority of SNP MSPs during his successful and positive campaign to become leader of the SNP and First Minister of Scotland. 

"As First Minister, he looks forward to reaching out to MSPs across the chamber in a genuine spirit of collaboration to tackle the challenges facing our country and seize the opportunities ahead of us.

"As party leader, he has made clear that he will harness the talent across the party as we move forward on our journey to create a better Scotland and deliver our nation’s independence."