Scotland’s parliament is set to confirm Humza Yousaf as its new first minister on 28 March. He narrowly won the contest to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as Scottish National Party (SNP) leader. Yousaf beat rival Kate Forbes in the final run-off with 52% of members’ preferentially ranked votes.
Yousaf’s election is responsible for a number of ‘firsts’ for Scottish politics. At 37, he is the youngest first minister since devolution reforms created the Scottish parliament in 1999. Moreover, he is the first leader of a national UK party from a Muslim background. Yousaf took pride in these achievements, saying in his victory speech:
We should all take pride in the fact that today we have sent a clear message that your colour of skin, or your faith, is not a barrier to leading the country we all call home
However, as PA journalist Lauren Gilmour pointed out, Yousaf is also the first leader of Scotland to have attended private school since Donald Dewar in 2000. Yousaf attended Hutchesons’ Grammar, one of Glasgow’s most exclusive private schools.
Yousaf a relief to trans and queer communities
Yousaf’s election follows Sturgeon’s surprise resignation announcement in January after more than eight years at the helm. Sturgeon said she was quitting because she felt unable to give “every ounce of energy” to the job. The decision came after a difficult period for her government. In particular, there was backlash against the Gender Recognition Act Reform. This would have enabled anyone over 16 to obtain a gender recognition certificate without a medical diagnosis.
As the Canary previously reported, Westminster used an unprecedented veto to block the legislation. Yousaf previously publicly stated that he will challenge Westminster’s obstruction of the bill. Subsequently, the news of his election was warmly welcomed:
The reactions emerge from the threat of a potential win by Yousaf’s rival. Forbes, Scotland’s finance minister, is a member of the strictly conservative Free Church of Scotland. The church itself opposes gay and trans rights, abortion, and sex outside marriage – and Forbes followed suit. As the Canary previously reported:
Hours after announcing her candidacy on 21 February, the 32-year-old Forbes revealed that she would have voted against same-sex marriage, had she been a member of the Scottish Parliament when the reform passed in 2014. She defended the stance as a matter of personal conscience.
Yousaf’s election has therefore brought a sigh of relief to many.
Not widely backed by the public
The former health minister doesn’t have plain sailing ahead, though. Yousaf has vowed to rejuvenate its signature policy of pursuing Scottish independence. However, polls suggest that support for independence has stalled, with recent surveys showing around 45% of Scots supporting leaving the United Kingdom – the same tally recorded in the 2014 referendum.
Yousaf has also attracted criticism over his record in several roles in government, and faces a bigger challenge to win over the wider Scottish electorate. According to Ipsos polling, Yousaf enjoys a favourable opinion among just 22% of Scottish voters. Another Ipsos poll conducted shortly before he was announced as SNP leader showed that half of Scots feel that the country is heading in the wrong direction, while just a quarter feel it is heading in the right direction.
Featured image via STV News/YouTube
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse