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As in 2023 Feb
Scottish National Party leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention to step back from politics and leadership. Her impending departure leaves a vacuum in Scottish politics – Sturgeon has been Scotland’s longest-serving first minister (in power since 2014) and has had to navigate through some of the most testing times in the country’s history.
A week after the announcement, three main candidates have emerged to replace Sturgeon: Kate Forbes, a devout Christian and the country’s current Finance Secretary, Humza Yousaf, the Health Secretary and Sturgeon’s favoured choice, and Ash Regan, a younger and lesser known Member of Scottish Parliament. While Forbes was the front-runner when she announced her candidacy on Monday, her stance on gay marriage has since tanked her ratings, with bookmakers now betting on Yousaf.
If elected as SNP leader and First Minister, Humza Yousaf will make history as Scotland’s first Muslim and South Asian origin first minister.
Yousaf was born on April 7, 1985, in Glasgow, Scotland. His grandfather moved to Scotland in 1962 from Mian Channu in Punjab, Pakistan, without knowing a word of English. His grandfather “couldn’t have imagined, not in his wildest dreams, that his grandson would be running to be first minister of Scotland,” he said. Yousaf’s mother, also of South Asian descent, emigrated to Scotland from Kenya.
Yousaf showed interest in public service from an early age: he used to work and fundraise for various charities including Islamic Relief UK. He went to the University of Glasgow to study Politics. While at the university, Yousaf was a prominent figure in student politics and the President of the Glasgow University Muslim Students Association. He graduated with an MA in 2007.
Meteoric rise in Scottish politics
Yousaf first entered the world of politics in 2007, as a parliamentary assistant to MSP Bashir Ahmad. After working as an assistant to Ahmad and a few other MSPs including Nicola Sturgeon, he was elected to the Scottish Parliament himself in 2011, aged slightly more than 25 years old. Yousaf thus became the youngest-ever member of the Scottish Parliament.
Yousaf became the first Scottish Asian and Muslim to be appointed as a minister to the Scottish Government in 2012 when then First Minister Alex Salmond appointed him as the Minister for External Affairs and International Development, responsible for external affairs, fair trade policy and diaspora. He would continue his junior ministership under new First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
In 2018, Yousaf was promoted to become the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. One of his flagship policies was the Hate Crime Bill which would streamline existing legislation as well as add additional protections for persecuted minorities. After the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, Yousaf was re-elected and appointed as the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care. As Scotland bore the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic and crumbling public infrastructure, Yousaf earned both praise and criticism for his handling of the situation.
Humza Yousaf is by far the most socially progressive candidate out of the leading contenders and a poster child for British multiculturalism. In 2016, after winning his second term as an MSP, Yousef delivered his oath of allegiance in Urdu while wearing a kilt. In 2011, he had worn a sherwani while taking oath. He has held progressive views on immigration, working towards providing immigrants and asylum seekers greater legal protections.
His views on gender are progressive. He was a strong proponent of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 which legalised same-sex marriage. He also supports Sturgeon’s Gender Recognition (Reform) Bill which will allow trans persons to self-identify. This Bill has faced strong opposition in the UK parliament, with the Rishi Sunak government blocking the legislation. Previously, he came under fire for refusing to say how many genders the Scottish Government believed there were, insisting it was important to be “inclusive, particularly of non-binary persons”.
Yousaf has also been a strong proponent of universal welfare programmes funded by progressive taxation. He has been a proponent of increasing public sector pay and is considered to be pro-union.
Lastly, he is a strong proponent of Scottish independence. On the SNP’s fight for independence, Yousaf said he believed in it “with every fibre” of his being, reported The Telegraph. Yousaf’s voted ‘Yes’ in the failed independence referendum of 2014.
Opposition to his appointment
His prospective appointment as Scotland’s First Minister has a fair share of detractors, from Scottish Conservatives to the Indian Council of Scotland which has claimed that the Indian diaspora will “feel unsafe” in the event Yousaf is elected.
“The Indian community – which is a community of all faiths that includes Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, and Judaism – would not feel safe with Humza Yousaf as First Minister,” claimed Neil Lal, the President of the Indian Council of Scotland.
2023: first minister
Pakistani-origin Humza Yousaf is the new leader of the Scottish National Party. He will be the first person of colour to lead Scotland and the first Muslim to lead acountry in Western Europe when he becomes Scotland’s first ethnic minority first minister on Tuesday. This comes at a time when the UK has its first Indian-origin PM, reports Naomi Canton. Yousaf defeatied Kate Forbes and Ash Regan in the race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon.
Yousaf, a practicing Muslim who was fasting for Ramzan, during the contest, was announced the winner on Monday, defeating Kate Forbes and Ash Regan in the race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon.
The contest saw 72,169 SNP members voting; they were asked to list three candidates in order of preference. If one candidate got more than 50% of the first preference, they were deemed elected. Since no one did, second preference votes for the third-placed candidate, Regan, were redistributed to Forbes and Yousaf. In the second round Forbes, the health secretary, who was raised in India by Christian missionaries, came second with 48% of the vote and Yousaf won with 52% of the vote.
The contest exposed profound policy differences between the three candidates, not least on Sturgeon’s controversial gender recognition reform bill, which has been blocked by Westminster. Regan resigned from government over it whereas Yousaf plans to challenge the block in court. It was a bruising and bitter contest and Yousaf, like UK PM Rishi Sunak, inherits a divided party and country. Aged 37, Yousaf is Scotland’s youngest first minister and was the party establishment’s favourite to win. He was the most experienced of the candidates, having served in government roles since 2012. But during the leadership campaign his record in government came under attack.
His father, Muzaffar, was born in Mian Channu, Pakistan’s Punjab, and emigrated with his family to Scotland in the 1960s. His mother, Shaaista, was born in Kenya, and her family also later moved to Scotland, where she met Muzaffar. Wearing a hijab, she could be seen shedding a tear as the results were read out.
Yousaf in his first speech as party leader gave thanks to his grandparents who made the trip from Punjab to Scotland over 60 years ago, arriving with barely a word of English. “They could not have imagined in their wildest dreams that their grandson would one day be on the cusp of being the next first minister of Scotland. Today, we have sent a clear message that the colour of your skin or faith is not a barrier to leading the country we call home. From the Punjab to our parliament, this is a journey over generations that reminds us we should always celebrate the migrants who contribute to our country,” he said. Healso said he wanted Scotland to rejoin the EU and vowed to put Scotland’s drive for independence “into fifth gear”.
Leaderof the Scottish Tories Douglas Ross said: “We encourage him to govern for all of Scotland and abandon his divisive plans to push independence relentlessly. Unfortunately, we have serious concerns about his ability. We hope he does not lurch from failure to failure as he did when he was health secretary, justice secretary and transport minister. ” Leader of Scottish Labour Anas Sarwar said he questioned Yousaf’s mandate and that while “Scotland faces the twin crises of the cost of living and the NHS emergency, it is clear that the SNP does not have the answers that Scotland needs. ”
Puneet Dwivedi, Scotland president of the Indian National Student Association, said: “The Indian diaspora arenot too happy about him being chosen as they don’t like his hate crime bill, which they feel curtails free speech. We’ve not seen him at any Indian community events. The diaspora were rooting for Kate Forbes, owing to her background. He is proindependence whereas the diaspora are unionist. However, we congratulate him and look forward to fostering a stronger relationship to ensure the wellbeing of Indian students and diaspora in Scotland. ”