SNP leader Humza Yousaf has called on the UK government to back a resettlement scheme for Palestinian refugees caught up in the Israel-Gaza conflict.
In his closing speech to the SNP conference – made before the explosion at a hospital in Gaza – Humza said Scotland is “willing to be the first country in the UK to offer safety and sanctuary to those caught up in these terrible attacks”.
Scotland’s first minister – who has family members trapped in Gaza – condemned the Hamas attack in Israel and the “collective punishment” of people across the Gaza Strip and called on the international community “to commit to a worldwide refugee programme for the people of Gaza”, one million of whom have been displaced.
In an emotional address, Humza called on the UK government “to support the medical evacuation of injured civilians from Gaza” and said Scotland’s hospitals will treat the injured.
Making a plea for unity, the tearful first minister said there is “no room” for hatred of any kind in Scotland.
In his first speech as SNP leader to the party conference, Humza surprised delegates by promising a freeze on council tax rates across Scotland next year. The first minister also pledged an extra £300 million in funding to tackle NHS waiting lists in Scotland over the next three years, and an additional £100 million for arts and culture over the next five years.
Responding to the SNP’s byelection defeat to Labour in Rutherglen, Humza urged the party to unite behind their new independence strategy. Delegates earlier backed the leadership’s new strategy to use the next general election result as the base from which to push for a second referendum on independence. Under the new plan, the SNP will have its mandate to negotiate independence with the UK government if it wins at least 29 of Scotland’s 57 Westminster seats.
Humza also announced plans for the first ever Scottish government bonds to raise money for infrastructure projects as well as up to £500 million over five years to “anchor a new offshore wind supply chain”.
The other big takeaway from the leader’s speech is a new pilot scheme to give £1,000 to survivors of domestic abuse fleeing their partners. This will be part of a £500,000 fund.
Meanwhile the SNP MP who defected to the Conservatives last week has rejected calls for a byelection.
Lisa Cameron quit the SNP and joined the Tories just before she was about to be deselected as a candidate for the East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow constituency.
Cameron told the BBC she regrets not leaving the party sooner and blamed a “toxic culture” among the SNP’s Westminster group for her reason for leaving. The party has rejected her accusations.
“Lots of MPs move party and actually create their own parties and didn’t have by-elections because it is not part of the process,” Cameron said, adding: “And certainly in this parliament those who have switched parties are all men except for me so they are still there.
“Why should I be the one to go?”