As a sovereignty referendum looms in Scotland this September, its external affairs minister says he doesn’t see many similarities with Quebec’s bids for independence.
During a visit to Vancouver to promote economic relations between Scotland and Canada, Humza Yousaf said his government’s case for independence is unlike that of the Parti Québécois because it is not based on language or ethnicity.
“There’s not a language base for ours, not necessarily an ethnic base for ours. It’s more on the fact that we want to control powers for ourselves and take political decisions for ourselves as opposed to a government we didn’t elect,” he said in an interview Friday.
Mr. Yousaf, first elected as a member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow in 2011 at the age of 26, is the youngest cabinet minister in the United Kingdom. He was named to cabinet in 2012.
He was affably wary about questions concerning Quebec sovereignty, noting the Scottish National Party (SNP) is often asked about parallels with secession movements across Europe. “We say ours is a unique one,” he said.
“Just as much as I wouldn’t like others to interfere in our referendum, I think it would be best that I don’t interfere in anybody else’s domestic politics. That’s a decision for the people of Quebec.”
He noted that he has never been to Quebec – this week’s visit is his first to Canada – and hasn’t had time to follow the Quebec election campaign. “You can imagine being a minister in the Scottish government doesn’t give you very much time to do other than focus on domestic politics,” he said.
That isn’t to say Quebec has not inserted itself into Scotland’s sovereignty debate. In January, 2013, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois visited Edinburgh for a meeting with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. It was a low-visibility encounter: No media photographers were allowed to shoot it and there was no news conference afterward.
Mr. Yousaf – the son of a Pakistani father and Kenyan mother – said Scottish nationalism, as advanced by the SNP, is distinct in its inclusiveness.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re Irish Scot, Pakistani Scot or English Scot – whoever you are you don’t have to choose one identity over the other. As long as you want what’s best for the country, that’s all that matters.”
His father was the first non-white member of the SNP and Mr. Yousaf’s “light bulb moment” was during a London march against the Iraq war when he wondered why Scotland had no say about whether to send British troops, including Scots, to Iraq.
“For me, that was it.”
After winning a majority government in 2011, the SNP began a push toward holding a vote on whether Scotland should end 300 years of ties with the United Kingdom. On Sept. 18, Scottish voters will be asked the “Yes” or “No” question: Should Scotland be an independent country?
The result has been a debate, akin to those during Quebec’s referendums, about whether businesses would leave an independent Scotland, and what fixtures of the status quo would endure in the event of a “Yes” vote and subsequent talks.
“We’re 166 days away from the referendum – not that I am counting, of course,” Mr. Yousaf quipped.
An opinion poll released late last month suggested 39-per-cent support for independence, up two percentage points from the previous month, compared to 46 per cent for the “No” side, down three points. The survey, conducted for the Scotland on Sunday newspaper by ICM Research, was based on a sample of 1,010 people.
Mr. Yousaf said he’s pinning his hopes on building momentum leading to voting day.
“We’re feeling pretty confident,” he said, “because our campaign is very much based on hope and aspiration and what Scotland can do, and the problem for the other side is they’re basically as campaign on negativity and what Scotland can’t do.
“They have a tough sell.”