Humza Yousaf resigns: Muslim who made history as Scotland's First Minister steps down

Tearful SNP leader forced to quit after confidence votes were triggered when coalition collapsed

Humza Yousaf resigns as Scotland's First Minister

Humza Yousaf resigns as Scotland's First Minister
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Humza Yousaf, the first Muslim leader of a western European country, has resigned as Scotland's First Minister after facing the prospect of defeat in two confidence votes.

Speaking at a hastily-arranged press conference at Bute House in Edinburgh on Monday, Mr Yousaf said he had informed his party's national secretary of his intention to step down and requested the commencement of a leadership contest for his replacement as soon as possible.

He plans to stay on as First Minister until a successor is elected.

Reflecting on his time as leader, he said: “As a young boy born and raised in Scotland I could never have dreamt that one day I would have the privilege of leading my country.

“People who looked like me were not in positions of political influence, let alone leading governments when I was younger.

“We now live in a UK which has a British Hindu Prime Minister, a Muslim Mayor of London, a black Welsh First Minister, and for a little longer, a Scots Asian First Minister of this country.”

He added: “So for those to decry that multiculturalism has failed across the UK, I would suggest the evidence is quite to the contrary. And that is something we should all celebrate.”

A Glasgow-born son of immigrants from Pakistan and Kenya, Mr Yousaf was the first person from a minority ethnic background to become the First Minister of Scotland.

The nation took the leader to its heart after his repeated calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, where members of his wife's family became trapped in the early weeks of the conflict after Israel's retaliation against Hamas following the October 7 attack.

But about a year and a month to the day after being sworn in wearing his Pakistani salwar kameez in the Scottish Parliament, and just months after Time Magazine described him a “trailblazer” and part of the “next generation [of] leaders”, he has now stepped down.

The move followed an abrupt end to a power-sharing agreement between his Scottish National Party and the Green Party last week, which ended with slim hopes that Mr Yousaf could lead a minority government.

That precipitated two motions of no confidence – one from Scottish Labour against the whole Scottish government, with another from the Conservatives, specifically about Mr Yousaf.

The pro-independence SNP's fortunes have faltered amid a police investigation into its finances and the resignation of former leader Nicola Sturgeon last year, as well as infighting over how progressive its pitch should be as it seeks to woo back voters.

Just days ago, Mr Yousaf said he was “quite confident” that he could win the confidence vote called by political opponents.

However, by the weekend, his offer of talks with other parties to try to shore up his minority government appeared to be faltering.

Mr Yousaf told the press conference that ending the Bute House agreement with the Greens was the “right decision” but he had “underestimated the level of hurt and upset” it had caused.

“While a route through this week's motion of no confidence was absolutely possible, I am not willing to trade my values and principles, or do deals with whomever, simply for retaining power,” he said.

With his voice at times cracking with emotion, Mr Yousaf paid tribute to his “wonderful wife and beautiful children”, and vowed to continue his role of championing the voices of “those who are not often heard”.

“I've often said that as a minority myself, my rights don't exist in a vacuum, they are only protected because the rights of everyone are protected.

“And from the backbenches of the Scottish Parliament, I will continue to champion the rights and the voices of those who are not often heard, be that at home, or indeed overseas, such as those suffering and continuing to suffer the most horrific humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza as the world watches on.”

He said he was confident that Scotland would one day win its independence from the UK, adding that “the last few miles of the marathon are always the hardest”.

Scotland's Humza Yousaf through the years – in pictures

Former deputy first minister John Swinney said Humza Yousaf was a “pioneer”.

Mr Swinney, who is thought to be a leadership contender, said: “Humza Yousaf has been a pioneer, the first person of colour to hold office as First Minister. He has given principled and empathetic leadership to our country and has worked tirelessly to bring people together.”

The Scottish Greens said Humza Yousaf's resignation as First Minister was the “right” decision.

The party's co-leader Patrick Harvie said the development was “regrettable” but welcomed the “personal responsibility” Mr Yousaf has taken.

He said: “Humza Yousaf is right to resign. His position was no longer tenable after he broke the bonds of trust with the Scottish Greens and with everyone who wanted a stable, progressive, pro-independence government. It is regrettable that it has ended this way, it didn't need to. We draw no satisfaction or pleasure from this.

“But the Scottish Greens could no longer have confidence in Humza Yousaf after he chose to unilaterally end the Bute House Agreement. In doing so he let down the large majority of Scottish Green and SNP members who approved the agreement who wanted it to work.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack also said Humza Yousaf made the right decision to resign.

Mr Jack said: “It was the right thing for the First Minister to resign.

“Humza Yousaf's leadership has lurched from crisis to crisis from the very start, and he could not command the confidence of the Scottish Parliament.

“Scotland now needs a stable, functioning Scottish Government focused on the issues that matter most to people – fixing public services and growing the economy.”

Updated: April 29, 2024, 4:05 PM