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Scotland's ruling SNP elects Humza Yousaf as new leader

March 27, 2023

Humza Yousaf has been chosen to replace Nicola Sturgeon as the leader of the SNP and Scotland's devolved government.

Humza Yousaf
Humza Yousaf was serving as heath minister prior to being elected as SNP leaderImage: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The Scottish National Party (SNP) elected Humza Yousaf as their new leader on Monday following a five-week contest that was triggered by the surprise resignation of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last month.

Yousaf was picked by the pro-independence party's 72,000 members. He is set to be confirmed as first minister on Tuesday.

Who is Humza Yousaf?

Yousaf, who was considered the "continuity Sturgeon" candidate and is the current health minister, beat Finance Minister Kate Forbes and SNP lawmaker Ash Regan.

"Just as I will lead the SNP in the interests of all party members, not just those who voted for me, so I will lead Scotland in the interests of all our citizens whatever your political allegiance," he said in an acceptance speech at Edinburgh's Murrayfield rugby stadium.

The new SNP leader, who is a practicing Muslim, also mentioned his late grandparents who were born in Punjab and moved to Glasgow 60 years ago.

"They couldn't have imagined, in their wildest dreams, that two generations later their grandson would one day be Scotland's first minister," he said. "We should all take pride in the fact that today we have sent a clear message: That your color of skin, your faith, is not a barrier to leading the country we all call home."

Yousaf also said his "starting principle" is to challenge the decision by Westminster to veto Scotland's Gender Recognition Bill. He was the only leadership candidate who supported the legislation.

Scotland's independence bid

Sturgeon stood down after failing secure a second independence referendum for Scotland and in the wake of the transgender rights law that brought the devolved government in Edinburgh into conflict with the UK government in London.

To leave or not to leave? - The Scottish question

The party holds 64 of the 129 seats in the Scottish parliament as well as 45 seats in the UK Parliament. But the leadership campaign has tanked the party's popularity in the polls, sparking hope among the Conservative and Labour parties that they could pick up some seats in the next UK-wide election, due by the end of 2024.

The SNP has built its support on pushing for independence from the UK. It secured a referendum on the question in 2014 which it lost with only 44% of the votes in favor.

But the nationalists pinned their hopes on a second referendum following Brexit due to the fact that support for the EU is higher in Scotland than in England.

"The people of Scotland need independence now, more than ever before, and we will be the generation that delivers independence," Yousaf said in his victory speech.

ab/jcg (AP, dpa)