Allies of former leadership rival say First Minister could have helped reunite party by hiring her to replace disgraced health secretary
: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Humza Yousaf has been accused of stoking a civil war within the SNP by snubbing his former leadership rival in a cabinet reshuffle.
The Telegraph understands that Kate Forbes, who was narrowly defeated by Mr Yousaf for the SNP leadership last year, was not approached about a possible return to Government following the resignation of Michael Matheson, the disgraced health secretary.
The move has provoked anger among allies of the former finance secretary, who claimed the First Minister had instead chosen a “B-team” to run the country.
Mr Yousaf has praised Ms Forbes’ abilities in public and she had signalled on Thursday that she would be willing to discuss a return to Government.
However, she received no contact whatsoever from Mr Yousaf or his aides during the reshuffle.
Instead, Mr Yousaf appointed his close ally Neil Gray as Health Secretary and brought party veteran Fiona Hyslop back into the cabinet.
The reshuffle had been provoked by the resignation of Mr Matheson, who The Telegraph disclosed last year had racked up a £10,935.74 data roaming bill while on holiday in Morocco.
He claimed money from the public purse to pay the bill, arguing he had been using his iPad to conduct parliamentary business, but later admitted he had subsequently found out his sons had used it to stream football matches.
The saga, which ran on since November because Mr Yousaf repeatedly attempted to keep Mr Matheson in post, raised questions about the First Minister’s political judgment.
SNP sources said these had deepened further over his failure to make any attempt to recruit Ms Forbes, which they said could have helped reunite his fractious party.
“It’s insane not to not pick the best team,” one SNP backbencher said. “By anyone’s judgment Kate is a major talent. To spurn her like this just makes Humza look like he’s bearing grudges.
“It would have been an olive branch which could have brought together and united the party. Instead, he’s picked a B-team clique while leaving an A-class player on the bench.
“It looks churlish and is liable to cause continuing rifts and divisions, not just among the parliamentary group but among the membership as well.
“The ironic thing is that if there was another leadership contest between them tomorrow, Kate would win with a substantial majority.”
‘Scathing attacks on Mr Yousaf’s competence’
After he became First Minister last year, Mr Yousaf offered Ms Forbes a post as rural affairs secretary. She refused the offer, with the job seen as a major demotion on her previous finance brief.
She launched scathing attacks on Mr Yousaf’s competence during the leadership election, famously attacking him during a TV debate over his record in Government.
Ms Forbes has also been a critic of the SNP’s coalition deal with the far-Left Scottish Greens.
Mr Yousaf insists the deal is “worth its weight in gold” despite the smaller party seen as being behind several measures which are unpopular with voters and businesses.
Geoff Aberdein, Alex Salmond’s former chief of staff, has urged Mr Yousaf to “move heaven and earth” to get Ms Forbes back into Government and has said she should be offered “any position she wanted”.
But his failure to even approach her was seen by some SNP insiders as another misstep. She won 48 per cent of the vote in the leadership contest, despite the party hierarchy being seen as strongly behind Mr Yousaf.
“Kate continues to be an outstanding SNP MSP,” another SNP backbencher said. “There is no possible, sensible or justifiable reason to keep her out of Government.”
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