Scotland's first Muslim leader, Humza Yousaf, aims to inspire others into politics

Trailblazing Muslim Scottish First Minister sees his role running a government in a western nation as meaningful

SNP leader Humza Yousaf speaks to suporters in Rutherglen during campaigning ahead of the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election. PA
Powered by automated translation

Hailed as groundbreaking by Time Magazine, Humza Yousaf has said he hopes to inspire others like him into politics, as he reflected on the importance of his appointment as Scotland's first Muslim leader and his role achieving independence.

Mr Yousaf said being a Muslim running a government in a western nation “means a lot” to him and his family.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and the country's First Minister said he was proud, adding: "It's not something I dwell on too often, because it's important job to just get on with.

“But if I can just inspire one person who never thought politics was for them to go you know what, yes it is for me, then that's a pretty good feeling.”

He made the comments to Time as he appeared on the cover of US publication after being included in a list of 10 "next generation leaders" by the magazine's international edition, owing to his youth and the fact he is the first Muslim leader of a Western country.

Mr Yousaf, whose party has been in turmoil in recent months amid a police investigation into its finances, said his experiences growing up in Scotland were similar to many other boys who loved football.

“And for a lot of my life, I wasn't overtly conscious of being different, despite my race and despite my religion,” he said.

Pivotal role

When the 9/11 attacks took place, his own reaction underscored what it meant to be a Muslim to Yousaf and subsequently played a pivotal role in his decision to enter politics.

“My Muslim identity came to the fore, partly because people were questioning or asking about what it meant in terms of my loyalty to this country. And you had two choices,” he said.

“You either just tried to put your head in a bunker and hope that it all passed by, or actually you stop in search and all these people don't act in our name. And you know what, I don't have to feel guilty for the actions of an extreme fringe.

“And I stand in absolute solidarity with those who value and treasure freedom and democracy and the rule of law.”

He said he remembers his dad telling him the world needed more people “like us” in politics.

“So you go for it. I’ve got your back”, his father said.

Turning to the scandal over the party’s finances, he said the issue has clouded the country’s independence cause over the past few months.

“We've not been able to get cut through because of other events that have dominated the party space,” he said.

He said “too many people” were living in poverty in Scotland, however, he reiterated that independence was the solution.

“We have too many people in Scotland, in fact, right across the UK, living in poverty, because we have had 13 years of austerity. And my belief, unsurprisingly, is that we need the powers of independence to truly unleash the potential of this country for every single Scot that lives here,” he said.

But an independent Scotland would not isolate itself from the world.

Instead, Scotland would show “global leadership”, he said, in issues including the “climate emergency”, which he described as top of the list of issues where he thinks Scotland can punch above its weight.

“We are bursting with potential when it comes to renewables. So for me the future of this country can be like many other European nations of our size, who are wealthier, more productive, have fewer people in poverty than the UK.

"The big question is, well then why not Scotland?”

Updated: October 05, 2023, 2:52 PM