Humza Yousaf suggests Ireland and Scotland co-operate on housing and energy

Scotland’s first minister and Nicola Sturgeon’s successor wants president Michael D Higgins to visit

Scotland’s first minister, Humza Yousaf, has praised Ireland’s stance on the war in Gaza, suggested the Republic and Scotland could co-operate to end Europe’s energy crisis and suggested the Government consult its Scottish counterparts on how to address the housing crisis.

Speaking before he was due to travel to Dublin this week, Mr Yousaf also criticised Rishi Sunak, the UK’s prime minister, for failing to attend the British Irish Council (BIC) meeting of political leaders that takes place in Dublin on Thursday and Friday.

The BIC, which usually meets twice a year, kicks off with a dinner on Thursday evening followed by a day of political sessions on Friday focused on the issue of child poverty. It is attended by the Irish Government, a representative of the UK government, plus the heads of the governments of the North, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be at this week’s event but Mr Sunak will not be there and will instead be represented by Michael Gove, the UK’s secretary of state for levelling up and its minister with responsibility for intergovernmental relations.


“It is very unfortunate that the prime minister doesn’t attend,” said Mr Yousaf. “Every other head of government will be there. It should really be a priority for the prime minister.”

Mr Sunak attended a BIC function last November at the first summit to take place after he became prime minister, but he has stayed away since.

Mr Yousaf said he wanted Scotland to deepen its political co-operation across the Irish Sea and it looked to the Republic on a number of policy issues, and saw it as a model for a future independent Scotland. He said both nations had also experienced similar problems such as housing shortages.

“It is fair to say the Irish Government often looks to us as well. We get interest from the Irish Government around issues relating to housing. We share many common challenges,” he said.

“Where there are good ideas emanating in Dublin or Edinburgh, we should be sharing those ideas,” said Mr Yousaf, who will talk at BIC about how the Scottish Child Payment had given it lower rates of child poverty than the rest of the UK.

Mr Yousaf, whose wife Nadia El-Nakla is of Palestinian descent and whose parents were trapped in Gaza, said he wanted to “commend” the Republic for its calls for an immediate ceasefire.

“The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Tánaiste Micheál Martin have both been very powerful European voices on this issue,” he said.

Scotland’s devolved parliament on Tuesday voted to call for a ceasefire, and for Hamas to release all hostages. Mr Yousaf, a Muslim whose parents immigrated to Scotland from Pakistan, said it was also important to “express solidarity” with Jewish people and Israeli families who had suffered from the October 7th attacks in which 1,200 died.

He said Scotland, Ireland and Norway together could generate enough energy to “solve Europe’s energy crisis” by weaning the continent off imported oil and gas.

Mr Yousaf also expressed his admiration for President Michael D Higgins and said he would like him to visit Scotland again. “On issues of global leadership, he is often an important voice.”

Mr Yousaf also said the Scottish National Party (SNP), whose leadership he took over from Nicola Sturgeon in March, wanted to deepen its links with parties “across the spectrum” in Ireland. Sinn Féin’s chairman, Declan Kearney, recently attended the SNP’s annual party conference in Aberdeen, where he was spotted several times in the company of SNP president Mike Russell.

x-ref to interview in Foreign

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times