Dear Humza

Sorry, is it okay to be informal? I wondered about Mr Yousaf or First Minister, but you seem like a no-standing-on-ceremony, pull up a bean bag kind of guy.

I had intended today’s column to be a searing examination of the new hate crimes law coming into force on April 1. Then I saw that the noble task of protecting free speech had been taken up by Joanna Cherry KC MP and Murdo Fraser MSP, so I can rest easy. I’ll admit they are an unlikely (hate) crime-fighting duo, but the same was said of Batman and Robin/Del Boy and Rodney, and they turned out okay.

Back to you, First Minister. Friday will be the first anniversary of you being sworn in as FM. Others will doubtless mark the occasion with a long list of everything you have done wrong. So unimaginative. Then a little voice piped up, an angel on my shoulder so to speak: why not buck the trend and list your achievements? Say something nice for once?

Nice is a word that has been associated with you a few times lately. Professor and polling Yoda Sir John Curtice, speaking to The Herald’s Andrew Learmonth, said the problem is that you are intellectually able and very nice, but you lack “presence”.

When I look at you I am reminded of that description of Joe Biden as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”. Substitute young for elderly and that could be you to a T, First Minister. Especially the last part. As Kate Forbes was kind enough to remind you during the leadership contest, you were transport minister and the trains were never on time, you were justice secretary when the police were stretched to breaking point, and as health minister you notched up record high waiting times. But do we ever hear you mention those achievements or the fact your party has been in government for 17 years? Modest to a fault, that is you.

Anywhere I turn people are forever saying that you are nice. It is like that advert for the AA that you are too young to remember: he’s a nice man, a very nice man, etc. In your case nice is often followed by the word “but”. But we won’t go into what comes after that because it is nice to be nice and that is what we are being here.

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Niceness is a much-underrated quality in politics and life in general. Your party predecessors as First Minister often seemed to see it as a weakness in parliament. Little good it did them ultimately. When they departed power they did so alone, whereas you, when the time comes, will have a huge crowd cheering you on. We’ll see you get a suitable next perch: a couple of chairmanships maybe, Loose Women, whatever you fancy.

(By the by, I see Waterstones is taking pre-orders for your old boss’s memoir, as yet untitled. They’re asking £28 a pop, which seems steep but there is a free motorhome with every purchase, while stocks last.)

I remember when your good nature first came to my attention. You had taken one of the family on the Harry Potter Studios tour. The opposition and media complained about you being health secretary and away from your desk during a pandemic. They were nit-picking when what they should have seen was niceness. You had promised the family a break and you went on a break, but no-one gave you a break, did they?

Your niceness was also apparent in those leaked WhatsApp messages that surfaced recently. Nicola Sturgeon and her pal sounded like a right pair of mean girls in their exchange, one of them spoiling for a “rammy” and the other calling the Prime Minister “a [expletive-deleted] clown”. Jason Leitch was too cocky by half, while you were just your usual bashful self, joshing about how you were “winging it” as the new health secretary and would “get found out sooner rather than later".

To be serious for a moment, I know there have been some “challenges”, as they say, along the way to becoming First Minister. Being privately educated in today’s Scotland is no gig for the faint-hearted, so well done for keeping your chin up.

Then there was that business with the scooter. I don’t mean to press on a bruised knee but what the heck was that thing? No one had seen the likes of it before, or since. You were only trying to get to ministerial questions on time, you being the minister in question, when oops-a-daisy you were off and sprawled on the ground.

A lesser, not-so-nice man would have been mortified and annoyed at the world, but you took it in your stride, sort of. Think, moreover, of the sheer pleasure that clip has given since. In any top five of politicians falling on their backsides, you will always be number one. Second forever, Kinnock, just like Labour in Scotland.

These setbacks stood you in good stead for what was to be the biggest hurdle placed in your way - being the continuity candidate to someone who promptly turned the world of Scottish politics on its head. For the love of a forensic tent in the front garden you did not deserve that, mate. It is all forgotten about now, anyway. Sure, there’s supposed to be an outcome to the police inquiry one way or another, but Scotland is in no hurry. Playing it cool, that’s us.

We could pause here and list a few more things you might have done better. The U-turns, the court defeat, the by-election gubbing, unwisely backing your colleague over that iPad bill. You were, as ever, only trying to do your best.

When all is said and done, you are not a bad sort of fellow. You are a bit daft sometimes, but there are worse things a person can be. When it comes time for you to write your memoir I have no doubt everything will be explained. Even the scooter.

Enough of the chit-chat. As promised at the start of this letter, we are here to set down in full your achievements over the past year. But would you look at the time and now we’ve run out of space. Never mind, there is always next year.

Yours, Alison