Scotland’s governing party has elected Humza Yousaf as its new leader.
The 37-year-old son of Asian immigrants is now set to become the first person of colour to serve as Scotland’s first minister, less than six months after Rishi Sunak became the first British prime minister of Indian heritage.
Yousaf will lead the Scottish National Party (SNP) as a successor to Nicola Sturgeon, who unexpectedly stepped down last month after eight years as leader of the party and of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government.
The SNP leadership race concluded on Monday after a bruising five-week contest that exposed deep fractures within the pro-independence movement.
The Scot of Pakistani heritage, a Sturgeon loyalist, was the favourite to win.
He was up against Kate Forbes, 32, the country’s finance minister and a rising star whose views opposing same-sex marriage have lost her supporters, and Ash Regan, who quit the government in opposition to proposed changes to gender recognition.
“From the Punjab to our parliament, this is a journey for our generations,” Yousaf said in an impassioned victory speech in Edinburgh, referencing his South Asian origins.
Yousaf said he has a “passion” for Scottish independence, and advocates “using our devolved powers to the absolute maximum effect to tackle the challenges of today”.
“I will ensure our drive for independence is in fifth gear,” he said. “The people of Scotland need independence now more than ever.”
Scotland voted against independence by 55 percent to 45 percent in 2014.
Britain’s vote to leave the European Union two years later when a majority of Scots wanted to stay – and Scotland’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic – brought new support for independence.
However, an opinion poll showed the backing for independence dropped to 39 percent this month after touching a record 58 percent in 2020.
Yousaf, recently the health secretary in charge of the crisis-hit National Health Service (NHS) during the pandemic, has been criticised for his record in government, including his handling of the health service’s troubles, and takes the reins of the party at a challenging time.
The SNP’s unity, which had been one of its strengths, has broken down because of arguments over how to achieve a second independence referendum and the best way to introduce social reforms, such as those advocating for transgender rights.
Michael Russell, the president of the SNP, said a week ago that the party was in a “tremendous mess”.
In a series of personal attacks unprecedented in the party’s recent history, Forbes clashed with Yousaf over his record in government, claiming that the trains were never on time when he was transport minister, that the police were at “breaking point” when he was justice minister, and that now, when he is serving as health minister, patients have the longest-ever waiting lists.
Yousaf responded by saying Forbes did not have the strength to fight for independence and claimed the LGBTQ community did not trust her because of her religious views.