Humza Yousaf wins SNP leadership contest to become first Muslim leader of Scotland

By Thomas Brooke
4 Min Read

Humza Yousaf has won the Scottish National Party leadership contest and will succeed the outgoing Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister of Scotland, despite being disliked by almost half of Scots, according to recent polling.

The Scottish health secretary will become the first Muslim to attain the role. He narrowly beat colleague and practicing Christian Kate Forbes by 52 to 48 percent once second preference votes were counted after outsider Ash Regan was eliminated in third place.

The 37-year-old is expected to be formally sworn in as Scotland’s sixth first minister at the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Wednesday, subject to a procedural parliamentary vote on Tuesday.

The leadership contest among Scotland’s largest parliamentary party exposed deep divisions among both the membership and its parliamentary cohort, and often turned rather unsavory with candidates attacking one another on controversial issues.

Kate Forbes, for example, who is a devout member of the evangelical Free Church of Scotland, was heavily criticized by parliamentary colleagues who supported Yousaf’s leadership campaign for her socially conservative views on issues such as gay marriage and abortion.

During the campaign, Yousaf had claimed to be a supporter of gay marriage, keeping in line with the SNP’s liberal hierarchy who backed his bid, despite actually abstaining from the final vote on the matter in the Scottish parliament back in 2014. Critics of the politician suggested his media response on the matter, after Forbes had revealed her religious views would have prevented her from supporting the bill, showed he was happy to sell his soul for the top job.

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Yousaf has made several controversial remarks during his time in the Scottish cabinet, particularly around race, including an infamous rant in the Scottish parliament where he claimed the country has too many white people occupying key roles.

The flagship policy of the Scottish National Party has been, and will continue to be under Yousaf’s leadership, Scottish independence, and the incoming leader has vowed to use “any means necessary” to break Scotland away from the United Kingdom, insisting that nothing should be “off the table.”

“We will be the generation to win independence for Scotland,” Yousaf said after the results were declared at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh on Monday, as he called the electoral success “the greatest honor and privilege” of his life.

The wider implications of Yousaf’s leadership victory among the Scottish electorate remain to be seen. Recent polling conducted last week showed the new SNP leader to be the most popular of the leadership candidates among 2021 SNP voters; however, he is the most disliked among all voters.

Just 22 percent of the Scottish electorate hold a favorable view of Yousaf, while 42 percent actively dislike him. None of the contenders are as popular as the outgoing Nicola Sturgeon, who announced her resignation last month, standing down after more than eight years on the job.

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