The SNP has elected their new leader: will Humza Yousaf sink or swim?
By Sam Boyle, Junior Consultant
The winner of the SNP leadership contest was announced yesterday afternoon, just over a month after Nicola Sturgeon resigned after 8 years as leader of the party and First Minister of Scotland. Bookies favourite and the establishment candidate Humza Yousaf is set to be confirmed as Scotland’s sixth first minister today following a final vote in the Scottish Parliament. Yousaf pipped Kate Forbes to the post in the second round of votes, winning 52.1% of the vote.
Not only is yesterday’s result an important day for Scotland, it is also an important day for ‘progression’, a word Humza Yousaf uses regularly in speeches and interviews. Yousaf has become the first Muslim to lead a major UK party and will become the first ethnic minority leader of a devolved government in the UK.
It was the first time the party has had a leadership contest since 2004 as Sturgeon was unopposed when she replaced Alex Salmond in 2014. You could argue that yesterday’s result simply keeps the leadership ‘in the [SNP] family’, as Yousaf worked for both Salmond and Sturgeon as a parliamentary assistant early on in his career with the SNP. He then served in both their governments, a government which he will now lead.
After the result was announced, Yousaf said he felt like “the luckiest man in the world.” Some critics would argue this is in fact true given his track record in Government since 2012 and most recently as Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care. However, Yousaf had the support of the SNP behind him, they trust him to stick to the plan and continue pressing ahead on trying to secure an independence referendum.
Humza Yousaf has a tough start to his time as leader with failing education and health systems, a cost of living crisis and rising drug deaths to tackle, as well as uniting the party that has dominated Scottish politics in recent years. He has also pledged that he will go to court to challenge the UK Government’s decision to block the controversial Gender Recognition Reform Bill. The Bill, which was passed in the Scottish Parliament in December 2022, makes it simpler for people to change their legal gender and lowers the age at which it can be done. In January 2022, the UK Government decided to block the Bill, something which has not been done since Scotland became a devolved power in 1998.
Yousaf’s election was good news for the Labour Party, as they believe it will enable them to increase criticism of the SNP’s domestic record on health, education and crime. A senior Labour figure told The Times, “people have already made up their minds about him…people think he’s a failed politician who can’t run the health service.” A similar reaction was felt by the Conservative Party as they saw Kate Forbes as the bigger threat north of the border. Both parties are now likely to borrow the lines used by Forbes in the leadership election to highlight his record in government against him in the run-up to the next General Election. There is of course more at stake for Labour as the more seats they win in Scotland, the less they need in England to form the next government - highlighting that Yousaf’s election not only has implications for Scotland but also for the UK more widely.