Brian Souter gesticulates with his arms as he speaks. He is wearing a blue suit with a stagecoach logo and has short brown hair, balding on top.

We comment on Humza Yousaf’s relationship with evangelical businessman Brian Souter

February 14, 2024

We were delighted to contribute our thoughts and findings on Brian Souter’s charitable interests for a piece in The Guardian on Humza Yousaf’s renewed relationship with the businessman.

Severin Carrell’s article of 14 February reveals that Souter has given £650,000 over the past three years to evangelical groups that oppose reproductive rights, LGBT+ rights, assisted dying, and more. The article also finds that Souter has funded two US-based evangelical organisations alleged to have covered up sexual assaults, discriminated against LGBT+ members, and forced unmarried mothers to give up babies for adoption.

In the early 2000s, Souter spent at least £1m on a failed campaign to keep Clause 28 (Section 2A in Scotland) that banned teachers from ‘promoting’ gay rights in schools.

Souter is the co-founder of travel company Stagecoach. In the early 2000s he spent at least £1m on a failed campaign to keep Clause 28 (Section 2A in Scotland) that banned teachers from “promoting” gay rights in schools. He was also a regular donor to the SNP, but did not give money to the party during Nicola Sturgeon’s tenure. This period of SNP leadership was notable for its progressive policy agenda.

Last year, Humza Yousaf asked Souter to help arrange a lavish “business dinner.” This appeared to signal the start of a renewed relationship between Souter and the SNP. Our CEO Fraser Sutherland offered his thoughts for the piece. Here are Fraser’s comments in full:

Humza Yousaf needs to provide a fuller and more honest account of what his party’s renewed relationship with Brian Souter means for the SNP and for Scotland. The list of organisations to which Souter’s foundation donates shows a joined-up pattern of support for socially conservative religious causes. Apart from anything else, MSPs should know, when they receive a lobbyist from one of these groups, who is funding it to be there.

The first minister has said that Souter’s return to the fold will not affect his policy priorities. But that statement will ring hollow for many. The story that emerged over the winter break shows a senior aide to Yousaf organising a lavish “business dinner” with Souter, who is asked for his approval of attendees and even offers to book the venue. This suggests an abnormal closeness as compared to the FM’s relationship with others in the business world, whom he is presumably equally keen to win back.

While Yousaf suggests no connection between Souter’s relationship to the SNP and their policy direction, Souter himself may feel differently. After all, he did not donate to the party under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership, notable for its progressive policy agenda. Souter now returns at a time when a socially conservative faction within the SNP is on the rise, buoyed by Kate Forbes’s strong showing in the FM leadership. With the SNP in reduced circumstances financially, might Mr. Souter now feel there is more leverage to influence the party? And might Yousaf be more open to this influence?

All this raises serious questions for a first minister who ran on a progressive platform in his bid for FM to distinguish himself from Forbes, and who is in a governing coalition with the Greens, a party strongly opposed to Souter’s views.

As an organisation campaigning for secularism and bodily autonomy, we simply ask that Humza Yousaf comes clean about what his renewed relationship with Brian Souter means for the SNP and for Scotland. For all kinds of reasons, we are concerned that the first minister is being either dishonest or naïve when he claims that Souter’s social conservatism is irrelevant to this relationship. Scotland’s voters have a right to know if there is even the smallest chance that Souter’s return could signal a shift towards more regressive, religiously influenced policy positions, as they have never backed or voted for such policies in recent elections.

Support our campaign work, make a donation today

Our campaign work is funded by the generous support of our members and supporters. Support our campaign work and help to create a fairer Scotland and world.

Cartoon showing a person dropping a coin into a collection box.

Join us!

Your membership will help to fund our campaign work to make Scotland a more secular, rational, and socially just country, and to ensure everyone in Scotland has access to humanist ceremonies to mark important life events.

Cartoon showing a group of protestors outside Holyrood holding up placards and carrying loudspeakers

Title Image: Wikimedia/Creative Commons

Latest Related Stories

Keir Starmer addressing a hustings event against a red background. He wears a suit without a tie and is speaking at a lectern.

Humanist Society calls for bold action on secular and progressive causes from new government

Humanist Society calls for bold action on secular and progressive causes from new government
Cartoon showing a family group looking at a sunset over the sea.

Use our guide for responding to the assisted dying consultation

Use our guide for responding to the assisted dying consultation
Graphic showing people putting slips in a voting box showing the Humanist Society Scotland logo, and LGBT+ flag, and a science symbol. Text reads "I'm voting humanist."

We launch our general election 2024 resources

We launch our general election 2024 resources
Ross holds a mic whilst talking to a crowd at rally (not pictured) outside. He wears a green kilt.

10 years of equal marriage in Scotland: interview with celebrant Ross Wright

10 years of equal marriage in Scotland: interview with celebrant Ross Wright