Scotland’s new party leader, Humza Yousaf, is pro-independence and Muslim


LONDON — Humza Yousaf, the grandson of a Pakistani immigrant who arrived barely speaking English to work in a sewing machine factory in Glasgow, was named as the new leader of the Scottish National Party on Monday.

Because of his party’s majority, Yousaf will almost certainly be chosen as first minister — the leader of Scotland — by the Parliament on Tuesday.

At age 37, Yousaf would be the youngest first minister of Scotland and the first Muslim to run the nation. His mother, wearing a headscarf, dabbed a tear as she spoke after the vote results were announced.

Rishi Sunak and the curious arc of history

His ascension as Scottish leader comes alongside the premiership of Rishi Sunak, a Hindu, whose parents are also South Asian. London’s mayor is Sadiq Khan, a Muslim and son of Pakistani immigrants. Today, Sunak, Khan and Yousaf are three of the most prominent — and powerful — leaders in Britain.

He promised Monday to continue his party’s push to leave the United Kingdom and become a fully independent nation. “We will be the generation that delivers independence,” he vowed.

But the the way forward is unclear, A spokesman for 10 Downing Street said Sunak would not support another referendum.

Beyond independence, the new leader of the SNP said he would focus on the high cost of living, improving educational opportunities and access to an often overwhelmed National Health Service. The leader of the opposition Labor Party, Keir Starmer, said Yousef and his party “do not have the answers on the NHS or on the cost of living crisis.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, a member of the Scottish Parliament, tweeted: “This is just the same old same old. The SNP is tired and out of touch, and it doesn’t look as if Humza Yousaf wants to make that any better.”

Yousaf will replace Nicola Sturgeon, who announced last month that she was standing down after more than eight years in the role, saying she no longer felt she could give the job her all. She also worried she had become a polarizing figure in a country divided over its future in the United Kingdom.

Sturgeon became first minister eight years ago — taking over from her older mentor, later antagonist, the former SNP leader Alex Salmond — after the failed independence referendum in 2014.

Sturgeon pressed then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson to allow Scotland to stage another vote, because Brexit — which most Scottish voters opposed — had altered the landscape. But Johnson insisted that the 2014 exercise was a “once in a generation vote,

After Johnson denied her a referendum and she lost an appeal to the British high courts, Sturgeon pivoted and said that the next Britain-wide general election, to be held no later than January 2025, should serve as a “de facto referendumon independence. That idea was not very popular.

Fervor for independence has remained mostly flat. A majority backed the idea at one point in the pandemic, when many in Scotland thought Sturgeon did a better job of handling the crisis than the British government did. But support has since fallen off.

One recent poll showed that 44 percent of Scots favored independence compared with 56 percent who did not — pretty much the same breakdown as in 2014, when 45 percent said yes and 55 percent said no.

The Scottish government under Sturgeon has also been in turmoil over Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which would have made it easier for transgender people as young as 16 to change their legal gender. The law was halted by the British government.

The new leader of the SNP holds similar positions on most issues as his predecessor. He supports same-sex marriage, he has said, and he told the BBC last month, “I do not use my faith as a basis for legislating,” adding the government must “look at what we think is in the best interest of society as a whole.”

Yousaf is a career politician, rising from activist to legislative aide to member of the Scottish Parliament. In a close three-way race, Yousaf took 52 percent of the vote, on the second count, against 48 percent for Finance Minister Kate Forbes. The selection was made by SNP members only — with a turnout of 70 percent.

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