Francesca Ionescu/ Politics Editor
After a vote in the Scottish Parliament, Humza Yousaf has been appointed as Scotland’s new First Minister.
The leadership race started after Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation in February. Sturgeon formally signed her resignation, addressed to the King, on the 28th of March. She left her Edinburgh residence for the last time after fulfilling her role for more than eight years- the longest serving First Minister.
The Scottish National Party leadership contest had three main candidates: health secretary Humza Yousaf, finance secretary Kate Forbes, and controversial former minister Ash Regan. The election used the single transferable vote system – voters could rank the candidates rather than choosing one singular candidate.
Yousaf was supported by his MSPs and the Scottish Greens, which guaranteed his win after Regan was kicked out of the race, and her second preference votes redistributed. He is the youngest first minister at 37, the sixth to occupy the role, but the first with an ethnic minority background. He is also the first Muslim leadership figure for a major UK party.
With only a few days in office, Yousaf has presented as a continuity candidate, wanting to keep delivering “people’s priorities across Scotland, including the need to half inflation, delivering growth, and cut waiting times.” He has notably pledged to create the role of the ‘minister for independence’, stating after his victory:
‘We will be the generation that delivers independence for Scotland.’
Unsurprisingly, Rishi Sunak has avoided the conversation by worrying the topic would ‘distract’ from the ‘top of the priority list for people across Scotland.’
The UK government has been stern in its decision to refuse a second independence referendum; Douglas Ross warned that Yousaf seems to be offering ‘a poor imitation of his predecessor’ in raising the issue of independence so early on.
Ross has attacked Mr Yousaf’s previous work during the First Minister’s Questions, calling him ‘the worst health secretary since devolution’ and further asking Sturgeon: ‘why is he even still in government?’
As opposed to his English counterpart, Yousaf has expressed disappointment in the attempts to block immigrants from getting asylum in the UK. He has claimed that ‘[the government’s] cruelty to refugees’ is an extra reason for Scotland to strive for independence.
Mr Yousaf’s background has been at the forefront of the conversation. The FT has commented on Forbes and Regan’s controversial views being more in line with “traditional (…) Christian beliefs”. Forbes has stated she would have voted against same-sex marriage if she would have been in parliament back in 2014. Ash Regan – third place in the contest – has worked in government for years until she left her role as community safety minister over the gender self-recognition law.
Yousaf has a lot to face in his term as First Minister : a third of SNP voters want an end to the power-sharing deal with the Greens. Despite announcing a majority-female cabinet, a few members have refused the roles as they considered themselves demoted. Alongside this, appointments such as Shona Robinson and Michael Matheson might raise worries regarding the handling of the NHS.
Kate Forbes called out the new First Minister during an intense debate:
“When you were transport minister, the trains were never on time; when you were justice minister the police were strained to breaking point; and now as health minister we’ve got record-high waiting times.”
While anxieties regarding Yousaf’s previous performances might be well founded, it remains to be seen whether he succeeds in delivering on his promises of growth and independence, while making right his wrongs in past roles.