Warm words defined the day for Scotland's sixth first minister

New SNP leader Humza Yousaf has replaced Nicola Sturgeon as first minister.

Bernard Ponsonby analysis as Humza Yousaf elected to replace Nicola Sturgeon as first minister STV News

When a new first minister is elected, restraint from the normal hurry burly of politics tends to take over and so it was today. 

Of course, opposition leaders reminded voters watching on just how allegedly incompetent the SNP are in government, but it was all done in tones that acknowledged today was not the day for full-throttle politics. 

From across the chamber, there was a widespread recognition this was significant and, in one sense, more significant than previous days like today.  

Scotland’s sixth first minster of the devolved era would be the youngest to date and the first Muslim to head the government of any western nation. 

The symbolism was significant and loud and in keeping with the hopes of those who helped forge the parliament in the first place. 

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar recalled how Yousaf had faced personal abuse and racism as he marked their joint efforts to combat prejudice.  

The new first minister, in response, recalled the feeling of not belonging in the country of his birth, as he was subjected to hatred when growing up, particularly in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York. 

Yousaf struck a consensual tone in his words to parliament. That tends to be the case as the weight of the office disciplines a new incumbent to strive to look beyond the narrow interests of party and stress that the office is to serve all the country. 

Yesterday, Yousaf quoted from the former Labour leader John Smith, the man who famously described devolution as unfinished business.  

Today, he invoked the spirit of Donald Dewar, the first Labour FM at Holyrood, who said the parliament was in existence to strive to do well for all of the people. 

And in a spirit of consensus, he offered early meetings to all of the opposition leaders to chart ground on which they could all agree. This is bog-standard diplomacy on days like today. If the norms of politics kick in, it will disintegrate in the usual acrimonious exchanges. 

There was another figure quoted today, that of Bashir Ahmad, the first person from a minority ethnic background to be elected to Holyrood in 1999.  

I knew Ahmad, shared the odd meal with him, and indeed first met a very young Yousaf through him. 

Ahmad was a modest and gentlemanly figure who worked on the buses in Glasgow when he came to Scotland.  

His unassuming nature belied a steely belief system chief of which was to build bridges and get on with people. He told his young researcher that what really mattered is where you are going. 

Ahmad wore a permanent smile which would have been the widest it had ever flashed had he been alive to witness today. 

In the public gallery, the first minister’s children could just about be heard as they waved to their dad a matter of moments after he started his first speech as FM.  

It was touching and an all-too human moment which Yousaf will no doubt cherish long after he demits office. 

His predecessor as FM, Nicola Sturgeon sat at the back with her former deputy John Swinney.  

As the opposition leaders made their pitches for the top job (another ritual on these days), the director of the Holyrood TV pictures caught her in several poses which could only be described as forlorn. 

No doubt in the months ahead, Sturgeon will be relieved to be unburdened by the pressures of office, but at the same time the slightly unreal life she has had as a minster for the last 16 years will kick in to remind that her life is changed utterly. 

For the record, the voting on first minister was 71 for Yousaf, 31 for Douglas Ross , 22 for Sarwar and 4 for Alex Cole-Hamilton. 

The opposition leaders feel the need to stand, if only to gently remind the governing party there is more to the parliament than the party of government.  

When Cole-Hamilton told MSPs that his candidacy would be rejected, there was a ripple of ironic applause. 

Irony gave way to guffawing when Ross described Yousaf as running the NHS part-time in recent weeks. Ross, of course, spends a lot of time at Westminster and the silliness of his jibe was not lost to the government benches. 

The opposition deplored and criticised, and in Sarwar’s case, demanded an election, but for the most part this was going through the motions. 

The significance and symbolism of the day was not lost on the tribunes. There will be other days when volcanic argument will once again shatter the peace and goodwill. 

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