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Yousaf: I feel hurt and regret at how relationship with Salmond turned sour

Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf has said he feels “hurt and regret” at the breakdown of his relationship with the SNP’s former leader, Alex Salmond.

Mr Yousaf credited the former first minister and party leader as the reason he joined the SNP and said Mr Salmond gave him many opportunities at the start of his career.

But speaking on The Rest is Politics podcast, hosted by former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and former MP Rory Stewart, Mr Yousaf accused his former boss – who now leads pro-independence party Alba – as giving the SNP a “kicking every day”.

Mr Salmond’s relationship with the SNP began to deteriorate following a high-profile falling out with his successor, Nicola Sturgeon.

The row followed allegations of sexual harassment made against Mr Salmond, who was later cleared of all charges following a High Court trial.

Speaking of their relationship, Mr Yousaf told the podcast he had “exchanged pleasantries” with Mr Salmond since taking on the top job, adding he believed Mr Salmond had an “ulterior motive”.

He said: “I wouldn’t go out my way, only because (I) haven’t seen evidence from Alex, nor the party that he leads, that they are interested in anything other than giving the SNP a kicking.

“If you believe in independence, giving the largest vehicle that’s driving forward independence a kicking every single day, through every single press release, doesn’t make sense to me.

“It speaks to me to a very ulterior motive.”

Scottish cabinet
The portraits of first ministers of Scotland, left to right, Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf hanging on the wall at Bute House in Edinburgh (Russell Cheyne/PA)

Mr Yousaf said he had hoped the former first minister would take on an “elder statesman” role in giving advice and assisting his former party with the independence movement.

But he said: “I feel, if I’m honest with you, the breakdown in the relationship with Alex is a matter of not just regret, but I feel quite hurt about it all and how it has all transpired.

“Somebody I looked up to now spends a fair bit of his time laying the boot into the SNP and trying to damage me, whether that’s personally or the SNP, and frankly the cause that we both love.”

He added: “It feels difficult to think that (his motivations) are anything other than to try and replace the SNP which is never going to happen.”

The First Minister also said he felt “sad” and “worried” about his predecessor, Nicola Sturgeon, amid an ongoing police investigation into party finances and criticism over the deletion of WhatsApp messages relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: “I’ll always have that deep affection for Nicola. I worry about her to an extent as well.

“She’s dealing with a lot, as we know, and I found it really sad about the certain elements who are seeking to try to tarnish her reputation.”

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond now leads pro-independence party Alba (Jane Barlow/PA)

He said of Ms Sturgeon: “Without any doubt, (she) and the rest of the Government, only ever put the interests of the people she was serving first and tried to protect them from harm.”

Asked if her marriage to the party’s chief executive was a “recipe waiting to go wrong”, he said: “In hindsight, you could absolutely reflect on that.

“I think nobody really questioned it because we didn’t see any red flags.”

Alba Party leader Mr Salmond said: “Humza and I didn’t just exchange pleasantries, he agreed to a meeting to discuss how we could best move the independence cause forward.

“Alba Party spent the best part of last year urging the SNP to work with the wider independence movement as part of a Scotland United pro-independence pact to face down Westminster and I wrote to Humza to set up a meeting to discuss this. Unfortunately, it seems that meeting was then either blocked by his advisers or they kept him in the dark about it.

“Support for the SNP is heading towards 30% whereas support for independence is enjoyed by roughly half of the nation. The fault for this lies solely at the feet of the previous leadership of the SNP for pursuing unpopular policies such as gender reforms, burst bottle schemes, the alienation of the oil and gas sector and an outright assault on fishing communities at the expense of independence campaign work.

“In contrast, Alba Party have a plan to actually take the independence movement forward. Humza should back a referendum on independence powers for the Scottish Parliament as proposed by Ash Regan MSP. This would be a far more productive means of leading the independence movement forward.”