THE elevation of Humza Yousaf is a dreary prospect. He was the continuity candidate chosen, as it turns out, by a mere 24,336 people. His job will be to keep skeletons under lock and key, pursuing the same old grievance politics while Scotland stagnates. The machine has triumphed.

Given the opportunity to set a new tone, Yousaf reassured the faithful about independence and him being the one to deliver it. No, he won’t but if that is his priority, and only vague idea, he will ensure the opportunities devolved power offers will continue to be squandered.

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Let me give a practical example. I happened to catch a BBC Scotland interview with someone talking about the discrepancy in life expectancy between prosperous and poor areas. “And how” asked the interviewer, “can we close this gap between Scotland and the south-east of England”.

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I’m sure there was no sinister intent but in other contexts, the question would have been recognised as bordering on racism. Rich them and poor us. In reality, it was just an echo of the constant drum-beat in which responsibility is avoided for Scotland’s internal failings.

Forget the south-east of England. The same disparities within Scotland can be found within easy walking distance. According to the National Records of Scotland, the gap in male life expectancy between the poorest and most prosperous areas is a stunning 13.2 years, with 10.5 years for women. If anything has changed, it has been for the worse.

The Health Foundation reported that there is a 24-year gap in the time spent in good health between people living in the most and least deprived ten per cents of areas in Scotland. These are statistics which the nationalists have had 16 years to move the dial on – and it hasn’t budged.

As Yousaf becomes First Minister, amidst no enthusiasm, his best hope of achieving something memorable might lie in asking afresh what devolution was meant to deliver and why, in so many respects, it is failing both economically and socially. I guess that will be the last question on his mind.

In the latter stages of Sturgeonite mediocrity, to borrow Kate Forbes’ assessment, the height of ambition was to boast Scotland was doing better than a Johnson/Truss/Sunak Tory government. Many of these claims were themselves tendentious and highly selective, but even that is not the point.

HeraldScotland: Humza YousafHumza Yousaf (Image: FREE)

You now need to be of a certain age to recall that, before Holyrood existed, Scotland often did things differently and better in policy areas now devolved. That was routinely assumed to be true in health and education, and so it should have been – because we had more money to spend and a smaller unit to manage.

The point of devolution was to enhance that advantage and bring it within greater democratic scrutiny. It was also, in light of the poll tax experience, to fireguard Scotland against Tory philosophy in areas of greatest contention, subsequently reinforced by the transfer of social security powers.

After 16 years, it is pathetic that the most which can be claimed (tendentiously and selectively) is marginal superiority over right-wing Tory governments while – crucially – the mountains which devolved powers should have allowed us to conquer remain untouched.

The basic problem throughout the Salmond-Sturgeon era was lack of consistency in addressing any medium or long-term objective other than independence. Salmond had the defence of uncertainty, given the fragility of his initial majority. He extended his base through populist, ad hoc government and, having secured a referendum, his strategy was to extend the big tent, so offend nobody.

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There is no such defence for Sturgeon. The divisiveness of the referendum meant that she inherited the near certainty of at least a decade to make a difference. On every measurable count, she has failed and without the fundamental reappraisal that now seems very unlikely, that is how it will continue. Look forward to more grievances and empty boasts, while nothing much changes or advances.

A commitment to addressing disadvantage and enhancing life opportunities cannot be half-hearted. It has to be driven through every aspect of policy and involves choices which Salmond and Sturgeon were never prepared to risk. Their skill did not lie in pursuing radical reforms to close attainment gaps or chasms of opportunity but in disguising the refusal to do so.

Listening to Sturgeon’s claimed achievements reinforced the point. It was thin gruel and mostly half-true at best. For example, she claimed to have “abolished prescription charges”. Well, actually that was Aneurin Bevan. Ever since, as the NHS expanded beyond his dreams, there have been arguments at the fringes of that great principle about whether the wealthiest should contribute.

Latterly, it became a purely utilitarian argument. With so few paying, was it worth the trouble? Wales, followed by Northern Ireland decided it wasn’t. Scotland followed. In England, 90 per cent of prescriptions are dispensed free. Removing charges for the best-off ten per cent in society is a modest reform, which conveyed not the slightest benefit upon those in need. Should that really be one of a First Minister’s top achievements after eight years?

Similarly, the council tax freeze over 14 years benefited nobody who paid little or no council tax. On the other hand, the failure to fulfil a promise to replace council tax with a fairer system is an actual Sturgeon legacy. Again, the gainers were the best-off and certainly not the poorest, who have seen council services on which they disproportionately depend cut, cut and cut again. Progressive? I think not.

I believe a consensus could be found in Scotland for sustained priorities that would actually make a difference in communities where there are least hope and fewest prospects. Kate Forbes just might have made that leap. Humza Yousaf, with his Green hangers-on, certainly will not.

An early election to offer real change is, as Sturgeon put it when it was about the Tories, a “democratic imperative” but it’s one that won’t be fulfilled. Whether Yousaf is still there in 2026 is a much more open question.

Brian Wilson is a former Labour Party politician. He was MP for Cunninghame North from 1987 until 2005 and served as a Minister of State from 1997 to 2003.