Yousaf’s international profile has risen in recent months due to his vehement criticism of Israel’s conduct in the war in Gaza, where his second wife Nadia Al Nakla’s parents were trapped for weeks. Image Credit: AFP

EDINBURGH: Humza Yousaf always faced an uphill battle to revive his beleaguered Scottish National Party’s fortunes and its quest for independence but few thought he would last little more than a year as Scotland’s leader.

The 39-year-old, who announced on Monday he was resigning as first minister, quit before facing probably terminal no-confidence votes in both his leadership and government.

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It continues a turbulent period for the SNP following the long and largely successful tenure of Yousaf’s predecessor and close ally Nicola Sturgeon, whose own resignation in March 2023 handed him a poisoned chalice.

The first Muslim head of a major UK political party, and Scotland’s youngest ever elected leader, he was deprived of a political honeymoon by an SNP funding scandal and a challenging domestic picture.

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The funding scandal saw police arrest and interview Sturgeon last year and recently charge her husband Peter Murrell, a former SNP chief executive, with embezzling party funds.

However, Yousaf’s downfall was ultimately prompted by his ill-judged decision last week to end power sharing with the Scotland’s Green Party, amid policy disagreements over climate and other areas.

The move dramatically backfired after Green MSPs (members of the Scottish parliament) joined opposition parties in moving to oust him, leaving Yousaf with no choice but to resign.

‘Brutal business’

“Politics can be a brutal business,” a tearful Yousaf said on Monday, after reflecting on the historic nature of his period in power.

“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.”

Glasgow-born Yousaf, whose paternal grandparents and father emigrated to Scotland from Pakistan in the 1960s, had been hailed as a polished communicator who could unite the increasingly fractured SNP.

He took charge in March 2023, after winning an internal SNP leadership battle, as support flagged for the SNP’s central policy - independence for Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Despite UK government opposition to another referendum a decade after an independence vote in 2014, he vowed on taking office to deliver it in this generation.

But independence has since taken a backseat during Yousaf’s rocky 13-month tenure, and party scandals and policy squabbles have dominated.

With the issue increasingly receding from day-to-day politics, his SNP now looks vulnerable to the main opposition Labour party in a UK general election set for later this year.

It could also lose a possible election for the Scottish parliament, leaving Yousaf with a unenviable legacy.

Succeeding Sturgeon after her eight years in charge, he had insisted that his experience hailing from an ethnic minority meant he would fight to protect all minorities’ rights.

However, liberal SNP policies on transgender rights caused him a political headache throughout, including among more conservative elements of the SNP.

Meanwhile crises in healthcare and education, marring the SNP’s record after nearly two decades in power, have also weighed on his popularity.

Gaza war critic

Yousaf forged his political career after growing up in Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow.

His father had enjoyed a successful career there as an accountant.

His mother was born into a South Asian family in Kenya.

He attended an exclusive private school in the city, two years behind Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.

From there, he went on to study politics at Glasgow University and worked in a call centre before becoming an aide to Alex Salmond, Sturgeon’s predecessor as leader and first minister.

Yousaf entered the Scottish cabinet in 2012, serving in various ministerial roles including justice, transport and health.

He married former SNP worker Gail Lythgoe in 2010 but they divorced seven years later.

He remarried in 2019, and has a daughter and a step-daughter.

Yousaf’s international profile has risen in recent months due to his vehement criticism of Israel’s conduct in the war in Gaza, where his second wife Nadia Al Nakla’s parents were trapped for weeks.

He described the period as being the most difficult of his life.