SNP leadership race: Humza Yousaf to become Scotland’s First Minister after beating Kate Forbes and Ash Regan

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Humza Yousaf will replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Humza Yousaf has won the SNP’s bitterly contested leadership election and will replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s First Minister.

The former Health Secretary, who was the bookies’ favourite to win throughout the contest, beat his main rival Kate Forbes and third-placed candidate Ash Regan. Yousaf won 24,336 first preference votes (48%), compared to 20,559 votes (40%) to Forbes and 5,599 (11%) to Regan.

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As no candidate achieved an outright majority Ash Regan’s second preference votes were added, which gave Yousaf 26,032 votes and Forbes 23,890 - another famous 52% to 48% split. Overall 50,494 members voted, out of a total membership of 72,169, making it a 70% turnout.

Yousaf - who is viewed as the continuity candidate to replace Sturgeon - said he was “honoured” to be entrusted by the SNP membership after winning the leadership election. He said: “It is hard for me to find the words to describe just how honoured I am to be entrusted by our membership of the SNP to be the party’s next leader and to be on the cusp of being our country’s next first minister.

He paid tribute to colleagues Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, adding: “It’s felt we’ve seen each other more than our respective families. You both have put in an incredible shift and I know that collectively we will work hard as part of Team SNP.”

Humza Yousaf has won the SNP’s bitterly contested leadership election and will replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s First Minister. Credit: Kim Mogg / NationalWorldHumza Yousaf has won the SNP’s bitterly contested leadership election and will replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s First Minister. Credit: Kim Mogg / NationalWorld
Humza Yousaf has won the SNP’s bitterly contested leadership election and will replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s First Minister. Credit: Kim Mogg / NationalWorld | Kim Mogg / NationalWorld

Yousaf is the first person from an ethnic minority to hold Scotland’s highest office. He previously became the first Muslim to be appointed to the Scottish Government, when he was made a junior minister in 2012.

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He said it would have been impossible for his grandparents to imagine he was on the verge of becoming Scotland’s First Minister. “We should all take pride in the fact that your colour of skin or indeed your faith is not a barrier to leading the country that we all call home,” Yousaf said.

Humza Yousaf won the SNP leadership with 52% of the vote, when first and second preferences were tallied up. Credit: SNPHumza Yousaf won the SNP leadership with 52% of the vote, when first and second preferences were tallied up. Credit: SNP
Humza Yousaf won the SNP leadership with 52% of the vote, when first and second preferences were tallied up. Credit: SNP | SNP

“From the Punjab to our Parliament, this is a journey over generations - reminding us that we should be celebrating, and always celebrate, the migrants that contribute so much to this country.”

And Yousaf pledged to battle Westminster’s use of Section 35 of the Scotland Act to block Holyrood’s Gender Recognition Reform Act in the courts. Answering questions from journalists, he said: “They do not have any right to use that excessive justified power given that the majority of Hollywood, of course, backed the GRR bill. My first principle, my starting principle, is to challenge that Section 35 order.”

Yousaf’s appointment comes just over five weeks after Nicola Sturgeon announced her shock resignation as both leader of the SNP and First Minister. She had been the longest-serving leader of the devolved government, with eight years in the role.

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The outgoing First Minister did not appear to be at the leadership announcement. After the results, she tweeted: “I pay tribute to all three candidates for the SNP leadership for rising to the challenge. Most of all I congratulate Humza Yousaf and wish him every success. He will be an outstanding leader and First Minister and I could not be prouder to have him succeed me.”

Humza Yousaf speaking at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, after it was announced that he is the new Scottish National Party leader, and will become the next First Minister of Scotland. Credit: PAHumza Yousaf speaking at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, after it was announced that he is the new Scottish National Party leader, and will become the next First Minister of Scotland. Credit: PA
Humza Yousaf speaking at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, after it was announced that he is the new Scottish National Party leader, and will become the next First Minister of Scotland. Credit: PA | PA

The leadership race which followed has been far from smooth, featuring acrimonious clashes between candidates. Forbes, the Finance Secretary, questioned the competence of her ministerial colleague and rival Yousaf live on air during a fiery hustings debate - effectively trashing her own government’s record.

Meanwhile, Yousaf slammed Forbes after she controversially admitted she would have voted against gay marriage, a comment which lost her a huge amount of voter support and threatened to derail her campaign. Then, Yousaf came under scrutiny himself after questions were raised about why he missed the final, historic vote on gay marriage at Holyrood in 2014.

The fairly even split in voting - between Yousaf and Forbes - who come from two different parts of the party, shows how divided the membership is around domestic policy. Yousaf said: “Leadership elections, by their very nature, can be bruising. However, in the SNP we are a family.

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 Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, after it was announced Humza Yousaf is the new Scottish National Party leader. Credit: PA Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, after it was announced Humza Yousaf is the new Scottish National Party leader. Credit: PA
Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, after it was announced Humza Yousaf is the new Scottish National Party leader. Credit: PA | PA

“Over the last five weeks we may have been competitors or supporters of different candidates. We are no longer team Humza, or team Ash, or team Kate, we are one team. We will be the team, we will be the generation, that delivers independence for Scotland.”

The SNP has not emerged from the race unscathed either, with the party forced to reveal that it had lost 30,000 members in just 18 months. It then emerged that head of communications Murray Foote had provided false information about numbers to the Sunday Mail, leading to his resignation.

Just hours later, Peter Murrell, long-standing chief executive and husband of Sturgeon, quit too - taking responsibility for the issue.

So Yousaf’s task moving forward will be to unite the party and the country, something which may prove difficult. Having served as an MSP since 2011, he will bring experience to the challenge - as well as hopefully some key allies from his time as both Justice Secretary and Health and Social Care Secretary.

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Humza Yousaf beat opponents Kate Forbes and Ash Regan. Credit: PAHumza Yousaf beat opponents Kate Forbes and Ash Regan. Credit: PA
Humza Yousaf beat opponents Kate Forbes and Ash Regan. Credit: PA | PA

However, he will also have to face up to the criticism he has received over NHS waiting times - and will soon have to delve into the battle over proposed gender reforms in Scotland. Yousaf, like Sturgeon, has remained in favour of the legislation which would make changing gender easier for trans people.

Independence of course will also be a key topic of concern. Yousaf has been a staunch supporter of the movement throughout his political career, but did recently reveal that he did not agree with Sturgeon’s previous plans to use the next general election as a ‘de facto’ referendum on the topic.

The MSP said he would be in favour of another referendum, but believes public support should be high, commenting: “It isn’t good enough to have polls that put support for independence at 50 or 51%.”

It is thought that Sturgeon will soon tender her formal resignation to King Charles, which will allow proceedings to continue. Yousaf will then face a vote in Holyrood on Tuesday (28 March), so he can be officially appointed as Scotland’s new First Minister.

He will face his final ceremonial moment on Wednesday (29 March), when he will be sworn in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

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