Humza Yousaf wins election to become SNP leader

The new leader is due to be confirmed as Scotland’s First Minister on Tuesday

Humza Yousaf, the newly appointed leader of the Scottish National Party, speaks following the SNP Leadership election result announcement. AFP
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Humza Yousaf will be the next leader of the Scottish National Party after winning the three-person race to replace Nicola Sturgeon on Monday.

He was selected by the SNP’s 72,000 members from a list that included Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and former minister Ash Regan.

Ms Sturgeon unexpectedly stepped down last month after eight years as leader of the party and Scotland’s First Minister.

Mr Yousaf, who was born and raised in Glasgow to parents of Pakistan heritage, won on second preference votes after failing to get 50 per cent of the share in the first round.

He is the first Muslim in the post of Leader of the SNP and soon to be Scotland, and is due to be confirmed as First Minister on Tuesday.

That means for the first time, there are now men of Asian heritage running Scotland, the UK and Ireland.

Speaking after the announcement at Murrayfield in Edinburgh, Mr Yousaf said he felt like the “luckiest man in the world” to be the leader of the SNP.

“To serve my country as First Minister will be the greatest privilege and honour of my life,” he said.

He said he was a “proud Scot and an equally proud European too”. He said Scotland was a European nation.

He added: “We will be the generation that delivers independence for Scotland.”

He said “elections by their nature can be bruising” but insists the SNP is “a family”.

Mr Yousaf, 37 also spoke about his late grandparents, who emigrated from Punjab to Scotland more than 60 years ago.

“As immigrants to this country who knew 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 First Minister of Scotland,” he said.

“We should all take pride in the fact today we have sent a clear message that your colour of skin, or indeed your faith, is not a barrier to leading the country that we all call home.

Humza Yousaf with his wife Nadia El Nakla and family after he was announced as SNP leader. PA

“From the Punjab to our parliament, this is a journey over generations that reminds us we should be celebrating and always celebrate the migrants who contribute so much to our country.

“This is what drives my commitment to equality that will underpin my actions as First Minister.”

The father, who has one child and one stepchild, told his children they would remain his main priority.

Mr Yousaf also thanked his wife, Nadia El Nakla, saying he would not be where he was today without her support.

Ms El Nakla recently dropped legal action against a Broughty Ferry nursery that the couple believed had discriminated against their two year-old daughter due to her “Muslim sounding name”.

Humza Yousaf wins election to become leader of Scotland — in pictures

Ms Sturgeon paid tribute to all three candidates for rising to the challenge.

“Most of all I congratulate @HumzaYousaf and wish him every success. He will be an outstanding leader & First Minister and I could not be prouder to have him succeed me,” she wrote on Twitter.

Mr Yousaf is widely seen as a “continuity Sturgeon” candidate, who shares the outgoing leader’s liberal social views.

The country’s gender recognition bill, hailed as a landmark piece of legislation by transgender rights activists, faced opposition from some SNP members who said it ignored the need to protect single-sex spaces for women, such as domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centres.

Mr Yousaf has promised to push forward with the legislation, which has been passed by the Scottish parliament but blocked by the UK government.

The result was announced at the BT Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh after the ballot of SNP members closed at noon, with a turnout of 70 per cent.

For first preferences in the single transferable vote system, Mr Yousaf took 24,336 (48 per cent), Ms Forbes took 20,559 (40 per cent) and Ms Regan took 5,599 (11 per cent) of the vote.

When second preferences were distributed in the second stage, Mr Yousaf took 26,032 (52 per cent) and Ms Forbes took 23,890 (48 per cent).

Mr Yousaf's parents Muzaffar Yousaf and Shaaista Bhutta in the crowd. PA

The SNP holds 64 of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament and governs in coalition with the much smaller Green party.

The smaller party has warned it may quit the coalition if the SNP elects a leader that doesn’t share its progressive views.

The new leader will face the challenge of leading the independence movement out of an impasse.

Independence is the party’s raison d’etre, but progress on the cause has stalled in recent years.

The country voted against the independence in 2014 and polls show little public appetite for another referendum, with a majority disagreeing with the case for Scotland to go on its own.

There is also the question over how the new leader can take the argument for a second referendum forward legally.

Ms Sturgeon had hoped to hold another poll this October on the question of whether the country should break away from the UK.

But in November the UK's highest court ruled that the Scottish government could not force a second referendum on independence without Westminster's consent — something UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is not prepared to give.

In response Ms Sturgeon said the SNP would use the next UK general election as an attempt to show that a majority of people in Scotland support independence.

But whether a new leader will successfully reignite that desire — legally, in terms of a second referendum, and among voters — remains to be seen.

Mr Yousaf has said he wants to build a “settled, sustained” majority for independence.

The leadership contest has sent the SNP’s poll ratings plunging — to the delight of the Labour Party and the Conservatives, which hope to gain seats in Scotland during the next UK-wide election, due by the end of 2024.

Who is Mr Yousaf?

Born in Glasgow, Humza Yousaf, 37, has a degree in politics from the University of Glasgow. After graduating he worked as an aide to a Member of the Scottish Parliament before being elected an MSP himself in 2011.

His father is originally from Pakistan and arrived in Scotland in the 1960s, while his mother was born in Kenya to a family of South Asian descent. He has a child with his second wife and also a stepdaughter.

Mr Yousaf was first appointed a junior minister in 2012, at the time the youngest person and first ethnic minority politician to be appointed to the Scottish government. He joined the cabinet in 2018 as Secretary for Justice and became Health Minister in May 2021.

He has come under fire for his record as Health Minister. Last month, Audit Scotland said the healthcare system was facing unprecedented challenges and the Scottish government needed to be more transparent about what progress is or is not being achieved.

A republican, Mr Yousaf said an independent Scotland should look at ditching the monarchy, telling The National newspaper in an interview: “Let's absolutely, within the first five years, consider whether or not we should move away from having a monarchy into an elected head of state.”

Updated: March 27, 2023, 3:16 PM