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Humza Yousaf, the new face of Scotland

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Arrived Monday at the head of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Humza Yousaf, 37, was elected Tuesday Prime Minister of Scotland by the Parliament of Edinburgh. He officially takes office on Wednesday, becoming the country’s youngest head of government. A look back at the meteoric rise of this extraordinary politician – Muslim and of immigrant origin – at a time when the fight for Scottish independence seems to have stalled.

“It is a proud day for me and my family, and I hope it is also a proud day for Scotland as it demonstrates our values ​​as a country as I stand here as first Muslim to lead a western democratic nation”, rejoiced with emotion Humza Yousaf just after the vote of the Parliament, Tuesday, March 28.

The new prime minister is due to officially take office on Wednesday after being formally appointed to the post by royal warrant and sworn in before the Court of Sessionthe Scottish Supreme Court.

At 37he makes history as Scotland’s youngest Prime Minister and one of the youngest Prime Ministers currently in office In the world. He is also a Muslim, the grandson of Pakistani immigrants who arrived in Scotland in the 1960s. A first here again in this position.

Following the surprise resignation of Nicola Sturgeon on February 15, after eight years in power, members of the Scottish Independence Party (SNP) had the choice between three candidates to succeed him.

With 52 % of the vote of the members of the SNP, Humza Yousaf, hitherto Minister of Health, won the second round of the ballot which opposed him to the Minister of Finance, Kate Forbes. “I am the luckiest man in the world,” he said at the time, adding, perhaps to reassure, when he was only elected by some 51 000 party members, that it would be “the pFirst Minister of all Scotland”.

The embodiment of ”continuity”

It is the culmination of a meteoric rise for Humza Yousaf, the child of Glasgow who, throughout his career, openly denounced the racist acts and remarks of which he was the victim.

Elected for the first time as an SNP member of the Scottish Parliament in 2011, he becomes, at only 26 years old, the youngest parliamentarian ever elected. The following year he became the first Muslim and the first South Asian to be appointed to the Scottish government.

Close to Nicola Sturgeon, Humza Yousaf has since held several senior positions, including as Minister of Justice and, more recently, Minister of Health. He has nevertheless been criticized for his record in government. But he was despite that the favorite of the party’s ruling elite in the SNP leadership race. Because, by promising to continue the ”progressive” program of the party adopted under the leadership of the very popular Nicola Sturgeon, the latter embodied ”continuity”.

Officially, the outgoing Prime Minister did not support any candidate in particular but she nevertheless declared that it was important not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, a formula interpreted by her peers as a clear sign of support for Humza Yousaf.

Differences over gay marriage

If Humza Yousaf also got imposed against Kate Forbes within the SNP, it is also partly thanks to the controversial positions of the Minister of Finance, a time favorite. Her campaign has indeed benefited from several missteps of its main rival, some very conservative remarks of which have created controversy in this party anchored on the left.

The 32-year-old mother from the Highlands, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, its opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion.

During his campaign, She admitted that if she had been an MP in 2014, she would not have voted to legalize same-sex marriage, in line with her faith. A exit which cost him several supports among the members of the SNP and knew negative echoes in the press. The former finance minister also said she personally opposes abortion and children out of wedlock, views that are in complete disagreement with the majority of Scottish public opinion.

On his side, Humza Yousaf has consistently supported marriage for all and assured that he would never legislate based on his Muslim faith

Kate Forbes then tried to repair the broken pots by saying that if she were elected Prime Minister, she “would not go back on already existing rights” and that she would “defend the right of everyone in a pluralistic and tolerant society to live and to love without harassment or fear”.

Justifications which seem to have been insufficient to repair the damage, analyzes Mark McGeoghegan, researcher at the University of Glasgow, specialist in the independence movements.

According to Mark McGeoghegan, Kate Forbes had a good chance of becoming Prime Minister, because she enjoyed a lot of support within the Scottish independence party. “There is clearly a large part of the members of the SNP who would like to reform the party, much more than what Humza Yousaf is going to do. If she (Kate Forbes, editor’s note) had been less divisive, she could have done better than him”.

Arm wrestling with London

The differences between the two SNP champions on social issues do not stop there.

Anchored on the left and very progressive on social issues, Humza Yousaf notably supports a law that aims to facilitate gender change for young people, from the age of 16 and without medical advice. A law which was blocked by the British government. Humza Yousaf has pledged to take London to court to defend the legitimacy of the Scottish parliament on the issue.

The other two candidates, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, opposed the bill. Regan had also resigned from his post as minister to protest against this “gender reform” and the two competitors had declared that they would not contest the British veto.

For researcher Mark McGeoghegan, Humza Yousaf’s position on this law proved decisive. “During the debates, Humza Yousaf used this disagreement very effectively, to distance the nationalist Kate Forbes. The latter’s explicit refusal to contest (the British government’s veto) allowed Humza Yousaf to position himself as a saying : ‘It is I who will defend the Scottish parliament, it is I who will defend the interests of Scotland’”.

The Impasse of Independence

Humza Yousaf also promised to be part of “the generation that will achieve independence”, arguing that “the people” of Scotland “need independence now, more than ever”. But the new prime minister access the power at a time when the fight for Scottish independence, at the heart of the SNP’s programme, seems to have stalled.

Today, polls show that support for Scottish independence is stagnating. According to a March 13 YouGov poll, only 46 % of respondents are in favor of independence, against 50 % last month. Including the undecided, the proportion drops to 39 %.

Humza Yousaf, however, pledged on Monday to launch a popular movement for self-determination, even though the British Supreme Court ruled last year impossible to organize a new referendum without the agreement of London, which strongly opposes such a vote.

The new Prime Minister will have to reinvigorate the campaign for independence and “present a plan of attack to advance the project of independence and succeed in convincing the members of the party to approve it”, explains Mark McGeoghegan. It’s not a question of who is at the head of the country : holyrood, the Scottish parliament, does not in fact have the power to hold a referendum or declare Scottish independence. All the powers are in Westminster”, continues the researcher for whom the only weapon available to the country is there “long-term political pressure”.

Cost of living crisis

Facing the deputies, Humza Yousaf paid tribute Tuesday to Nicola Sturgeon, who had officially sent her letter of resignation to Charles III the same morning.

“She will be hard to replace,” he said, promising to “continue to ensure that Scotland has a progressive voice on the world stage”. Humza Yousaf assumes positions anchored on the left on the economy, wishing for example to increase taxes on the richest in Scotland, which has 5.5 million inhabitants.

His task promises to be difficult, underline Tuesday the British newspapers. In the midst of a cost of living crisis, Humza Yousaf inherits a difficult mandate and will have to face major challenges : reduce inflation, the fskyrocketing cost of living and solving waiting problems in the health system.

The new head of the Scottish government will also have to overcome strong criticism over his record in power, in particular as Minister of Health, with hospital waiting times having reached record levels under his tenure.

For James Mitchell, professor of public policy at the University of Edinburgh, “He arrives in a very difficult position. The people do not trust him and do not consider him competent”. For James Mitchell, the SNP will find itself “on the defensive, with a weak leader, who has not had a very great success as a minister.” A recent Ipsos-Mori poll only gives him a favorable opinion of 22% in the Scottish population.

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