IN what has been a period of extraordinary personal challenge for the First Minister, he’s been a guiding light in the darkest of times. 

It feels uncomfortable to continue as normal, or carry out the menial day-to-day tasks of my life in the privilege of safety. Knowing that as I do so children in Gaza spend the night in pitch darkness. Consumed by hunger. Drinking seawater to sustain themselves. Rockets raining down all around them. I have been incapable of thinking about much else.

The death toll in Gaza increases by the hour and harrowing images on the ground haunt every social media timeline. Not least the bodies of children strewn across decimated streets or buried under the homes that have fallen on their heads. What the world has collectively sat back and witnessed since October 7 disgraces us all, on a basic human level. And it begs the question – what could this possibly achieve? 

One of the most disgraceful and unintelligent things that we as humans do, is engage in extreme acts of violence in the belief that it will solve anything. Violence should be the exception, not the answer.

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It seems, no matter how many opportunities we are given to learn this lesson, we are resolved to repeat our mistakes. The deaths of children do not, and will not ever, avenge the deaths of other children. This is a tactic bound only to result in further, needless tragedy.

Once our leaders have grasped that notion, a peaceful world might seem less far away.

So much time has been wasted bickering about the complexities of this situation as the death toll increases and violence escalates at an alarming rate.

More than 6000 bombs were dropped on a strip of land only 25 miles long and six miles wide in just six days. A figure that has not drawn nearly enough criticism from the powers that be. Do not be desensitised to this level of destruction. To put it into context, that is the equivalent of a quarter of a nuclear bomb. Dropped in an area that is home to more than two million civilians, half of which are children.

In such a small and densely populated place, there is no reality in which civilian casualties are avoidable under this level of violence and the idea that it is self-defence or justifiable is risible. It is pure, out-of-control bloodthirst. 

Meanwhile, world leaders cowardly tip-toe around saying anything of substance, valuing political capital ahead of the lives of Palestinian children. In doing so, entrenching unnecessary polarisation of an issue that is not that difficult to grasp.

While they may distract with soundbites about self-defence and being united against terror, the plain and simple fact that innocent civilians are being slaughtered before our very eyes is the crux of the issue we now face.

If it is a united front against terror that is the justification for the international funding and celebration of this horror is Palestine entitled to defend itself from the terror it now faces? Are we to just engage in an endless circle of violence until no-one is left?

It seems that we have co-authored two versions of terror, one that is state-sponsored and one that is not. It doesn’t mean that either one is acceptable.

The National: Four-year-old Ryan Atmeh joins pro-Palestinian protesters at a demonstration against the Israel-Hamas conflict outside Leinster House in Dublin. Picture date: Wednesday October 18, 2023. PA Photo. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has called for an immediate

The lack of spine it must take to witness atrocities on this level, and be unable to muster the strength to condemn it unequivocally and without caveat is almost incomprehensible.

I look at Keir Starmer, Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak to name a few. Cosying up to Benjamin Netanyahu, in full knowledge that his regime is raining rockets down on the heads of children – regardless of what his justification is – is deplorable.

Any leader that does so, or even worse, provides resources to make it possible, is complicit in the unspeakable death and destruction we are seeing play out. 

Arriving at this conclusion does not take away from the suffering of Israeli civilians it is simply disingenuous to pretend that it does. Despite what we are being led to believe it is perfectly manageable to simultaneously comprehend the tragedy in Israel on October 7, and the unrelenting tragedy in Palestine since. Both should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

AMIDST a shower of cowardice, Humza Yousaf has shown exemplary leadership. While his family face grave danger, and his political peers demonstrate the lack of humanity that got us here in the first place he has shown unwavering compassion and leadership.

From comforting the Jewish community to offering Scotland as the first country to provide sanctuary and medical aid for Palestinians, he has shone across the world as a beacon of hope at a time when little hope is to be found anywhere. 

It shames our politics that Yousaf has to be the sole point of reference for good leadership here. And illustrates perfectly the kind of exceptionalism and lack of proximity that has seen western countries partake in destructive wars for decades.

It shouldn’t take lived experience to evoke compassion for humanity.

Why, in situations of injustice, is it perpetually the responsibility of those with lived experience to shoulder the entirety of the education and leadership?

It is incumbent on all of us as human beings to speak up in times of injustice. Not only when it is convenient for ourselves to do so, or only when we are personally impacted. 

Since his premiership took off in the spring, Yousaf has had to weather quite the storm. We really haven’t had the opportunity to see him shine as the leader he has now proven himself to be. Until this week.

He’s gone from perpetual political firefighter to internationally celebrated statesman – while his main opposition lose councillors up and down Britain amidst a mass resignation in protest of their woeful leader. Starmer should fear the Yousaf before us now.

Certainly, the man I have seen before me this week is undoubtedly the kind of leader Scotland needs. I’m deeply proud to be Scottish in this moment, and to be governed by such strength and humanity when the world needs it most.