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Humza Yousaf: A trailblazer and the first Muslim to lead Scotland

Humza Yousaf of Pakistani descent, who is most likely to be named Scotland’s new First Minister, will create history when he becomes the first Muslim and the first man of colour to lead the semi-autonomous government of the Scottish National Party (SNP).

He will also be the first  Muslim to lead a country in Western Europe.

The 37-year-old won the SNP leadership race on Monday and replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s top leader.

“I will be a First Minister for all of Scotland. I will work every minute of every day to earn and to re-earn your respect and your trust,” Yousaf said in his acceptance speech.

Yousuf could be sworn in on Wednesday if he wins a vote in the nation’s Parliament on Tuesday, less than six months after Rishi Sunak, of Indian heritage, became the United Kingdom’s prime minister.

“From the Punjab to our parliament, this is a journey for our generations,” Yousaf said in his triumphal address to party members and the followers in the Scottish capital Edinburgh, referring to his South Asian roots.

Yousaf has been a progressive member of his party and actively involved in national politics, which sometimes has led his views to be challenged within the party. 

Yousaf has not been far from politics because his family is close to Scottish domestic and international developments.

After earning a degree from the University of Glasgow for politics, Yousaf worked as a researcher for the SNP and was later elected as a member of the Scottish Parliament in 2011.

He first became a party member and gradually climbed the political steps to serve as transport, justice and health secretary under Sturgeon’s leadership. 

He was criticised by opponents over his handling of the Covid pandemic that killed over 16,400 people in Scotland since March 2020.

Independent Scotland?

Before the election, Yousaf was targeted by his opponents for being too local, focused on identity politics and not sufficient on the country’s policy issues. However, he refuted the criticism and underlined that he is committed to advancing policies that benefit all nationals regardless of their backgrounds. 

He gave speeches in his campaign on rejoining the European Union, making the country renewable energy friendly, barring conversion practices and Scotland’s independence from the UK, a country united for about three centuries.

Yousaf runs against Kate Forbes and Ash Regan —  two influential members of the Scottish party. The race was insufficient to give a result in the first round, but he defeated Forbes in the second by 52 to 48 percent. 

Yousaf is one of the leading pro-independence politicians in the country. But a recent opinion poll conducted in March shows a big drop in backing a separation from the UK with only 39 percent favouring independence in a survey this month. The number was as high as 58 percent in 2020.

“I will ensure our drive for independence is in fifth gear,” he said. “The people of Scotland need independence now more than ever.”

Chequered life

Yousaf was born and raised in Glasgow in a working-class family and attended local schools before earning a degree in politics from the University of Glasgow. His father was a community organiser, and his mother was a teacher.

He then worked for several political organisations before being elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2011.

Yousaf’s political career has been marked by a commitment to social justice and equality. He has been a strong advocate for minority rights and has spoken out against racism and discrimination. 

Yousaf’s appointment has been met with both praise and criticism. Many have lauded him for his trailblazing role as the first person of colour and Muslim to hold the top position. However, others have questioned his qualifications and experience, and some have criticised his support for Scottish independence.

Yousaf’s family has reportedly been facing discrimination in the country. In a highly-publicised case, his wife Nadia El-Nakla launched legal action against a nursery in a school for refusing to give their two-year-old daughter a place due to her non-western name. The case was later dropped after the nursery agreed to make some changes in admissions.

His historic election has been seen as a sign of progress and a testament to the diversity and inclusivity of Scottish society.

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