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Humza Yousaf: All You Need to Know About the New SNP Leader

Humza Yousaf

Humza Yousaf becomes the first Muslim First Minister of Scotland.

Just over a month ago (15th February), Nicola Sturgeon sent shockwaves through British politics when she announced her sudden resignation as Scotland’s First Minister. Sturgeon had been in the role since 2014 and her resignation came as a shock to most.

With Scotland needing a replacement First Minister and the Scottish National Party (SNP) needing a new leader, a leadership contest started almost immediately. The two frontrunners for the position were Finance Minister, Kate Forbes and Health and Care Secretary, Humza Yousaf, while Ash Regan was also in the running.

Yesterday, it was announced that Yousaf had won the internal election after two rounds of voting. Needing a majority percentage to win, he only managed to obtain 48% of the vote in the first round with Forbes getting 40% and Regan getting 12%.

However, a second round of voting left him with 52% of the vote after Regan was eliminated from the race. While there were 72,619 eligible voters, the turnout was only 50,490. The victory means that Yousaf will become the first Muslim to lead a major party in the United Kingdom.

The 37-year-old was thought to be Nicola Sturgeon’s preferred successor and he served within her government as Scotland’s Health and Care Secretary. Speaking after his win, he confirmed his intention to push for Scottish independence and to get the nation back into the European Union. He added:

“I feel like the luckiest man in the world to be standing here as leader of the SNP. A party I joined almost 20 years ago and that I love so dearly.

“In the SNP we are a family. Over the last five weeks, we may have been competitors or supporters of different candidates, but we are no longer team Humza, or team Ash, or team Kate, we are one team. We will be the team, the generation, to win independence for Scotland.”

Who is Humza Yousaf?

Born in Glasgow to parents who had migrated from Pakistan, Huma Yousaf showed an interest from an early age to engage in politics. Throughout his teens, he was heavily involved in community work and was a volunteer media spokesperson for the charity Islamic Relief.

After school, he enrolled at The University of Glasgow to study politics and left with a Master’s Degree. It was during his time as a student that he joined the SNP after speeches from Alex Salmond and Rose Gentle inspired him to believe that independence was the only way for Scotland to avoid the war in Iraq.

He heavily campaigned for the party leading up to the 2007 Scottish Parliament election which earned the SNP their first-ever Scottish government. He began working immediately as a Parliamentary Assistant to the SNP’s Bashir Ahmad before becoming the youngest-ever MSP at the time in 2011.

His career has progressed since and built a good relationship with his predecessor, Nicola Sturgeon. She made him Transport Minister in 2016 before promoting him to Justice Secretary during a cabinet reshuffle in 2018. The Covid-19 pandemic then prompted Sturgeon to hand him the title of Health and Care Secretary, indicating the level of trust she placed in him.

A controversial campaign trail

Despite eventually winning the contest, Yousaf’s campaign to become Scotland’s new First Minister had its challenges.

As well as doubling down on his intention to make Scotland independent from the UK, something that polls indicate will not happen any time soon, he has challenged Westminster’s controversial use of Section 36 to overturn Holyrood’s vote on trans-self-ID reforms that played a part in his predecessor’s downfall.

He also had to battle against old skeletons throughout this campaign. In 2016, he was caught driving a car without insurance while he was Scotland’s Transport Minister in what the 37-year-old labelled an “honest mistake.” While he received a £300 fine from the police and six points on his license, he managed to keep hold of his job.

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister from 2007-2014, has also been in the news over the past couple of weeks claiming that Yousaf had skipped a vote on gay marriage in 2014 due to “religious pressure”.

Yousaf has come out to deny these claims saying that he missed the vote due to the case of a Scottish citizen being on death row in Pakistan.

Final thought

Yousaf’s election win is certainly a historic moment as he becomes the first Muslim to lead a political party in the United Kingdom.

The fact that he was born to immigrants could also prove to be a tricky issue for the UK Government to navigate in the coming weeks given the recent announcement of their controversial immigration plans. For Yousaf, he has potentially made a rod for his own back by claiming that he will be the one to deliver Scottish independence. Recent polls from YouGov indicate that “No” currently leads 53.8% to 46% while Conservative and Labour MPs.

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