Yousaf’s victory in the race to become Scotland’s first minister in the semi-autonomous government makes him the first Muslim to lead a country in western Europe
By: Kimberly Rodrigues
Humza Yousaf has been elected as the first Muslim leader of Scotland after a tough party contest to replace Nicola Sturgeon. At 37, he is also the youngest leader of the SNP but now faces the challenging task of uniting the Scottish National Party (SNP) around their independence bid.
Yousaf’s victory in the race to become Scotland’s first minister in the semi-autonomous government makes him the first Muslim to lead a country in western Europe. He is a close ally of Sturgeon and has been seen as a continuity candidate, indicating that the party will not deviate from its progressive policies.
While Yousaf shares the SNP’s goal of independence, he has distanced himself from Sturgeon’s planned route to achieve it.
Instead, he believes that the party should focus on making a compelling case for independence, rather than debating the process.
“We will be the generation that delivers independence for Scotland,” Yousaf said in Edinburgh after the result.
“Where there are divisions to heal we must do so and do so quickly because we have a job to do and as a party we are at our strongest when we are united, and what unites is our shared goal of delivering independence for our nation.”
Yousaf said his faith does not influence his legislative decisions, and he is a supporter of equal marriage. This position was taken following a disagreement with his main rival, Kate Forbes, over the matter.
In addition, Yousaf plans to challenge the UK government’s decision to prevent a bill passed by the Scottish parliament that would ease the process of changing one’s legal gender.
Yousaf’s socially progressive stance is also expected to help maintain the SNP government’s agreement with the Green Party.
Yousaf was born in Glasgow, and holds a degree in politics from the University of Glasgow. He started his career as an aide to a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) after graduation and was subsequently elected as an MSP in 2011.
Yousaf’s father who worked as an accountant in Glasgow is from Pakistan and migrated to Scotland during the 1960s, while his mother was born in Kenya to an Asian family.
He has a child with his second wife and is also a stepfather.
In 2012, Yousaf was appointed as a junior minister, becoming the first ethnic minority and youngest person to serve in the Scottish government. He was promoted to the cabinet in 2018 as the Secretary for Justice and became the health minister in May 2021.
Yousaf’s tenure as health minister has faced criticism, particularly from Audit Scotland, which stated last month that the healthcare system was encountering unparalleled difficulties, and the Scottish government needed to be more open about its progress.
In an interview with the National newspaper, Yousaf, who is a republican, stated that an independent Scotland should consider ditching the monarchy. “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” he said.
(With inputs from Reuters and AFP)