London: Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first Muslim leader after a bruising party contest to replace Nicola Sturgeon, is an experienced minister who faces a tough task uniting the Scottish National Party around its independence bid.
Announced the winner in the race to become first minister in Scotland’s semi-autonomous government, Yousaf will become the first Muslim to lead a country in Western Europe.
A close Sturgeon ally, he has been considered a continuity candidate, and his victory in the SNP’s leadership race signals that the party will not abandon its progressive policies.
He has however distanced himself from her planned route to independence, saying the party needs to get back to making the case for independence, rather than endlessly debating process.
He will also have to try to unify the party after a brutal leadership campaign that exposed divisions among the candidates over their approach to independence and social issues.
“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 has said his faith is “not the basis on which I legislate” and that he supports equal marriage, following a row over the views of his main rival for the role, Kate Forbes.
He has also said he plans to challenge the UK government’s decision to block a bill passed by the Scottish parliament that makes it easier for people to change their legal gender.
His progressive social views should preserve a deal with the Green Party to support the SNP government.
Born in Glasgow, the 37-year-old has a degree in politics from the University of Glasgow. After graduating he worked as an aide to a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) before being elected an MSP himself in 2011.
His father is originally from Pakistan and came to 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 step-daughter.
Yousaf was first appointed a junior minister in 2012, at the time the youngest person and first ethnic minority to be appointed to the Scottish government. He joined the cabinet in 2018 as Secretary for Justice and became health minister in May 2021.
Yousaf has come under fire for his record as health minister, with Audit Scotland saying last month 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.
It said the proportion of patients seen within the 4-hour target at Accident and Emergency departments was falling and hundreds of thousands of Scots were waiting for hospital procedures, outpatients appointments and diagnostic tests.
A republican, 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.”