Humza Yousaf set to be Scotland's next First Minister after winning SNP leadership

The health secretary is set to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister of Scotland.

Humza Yousaf has won the SNP leadership contest to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as party leader, and is set to become the next First Minister of Scotland.

The announcement was made just after 2pm on Monday at the BT Murrayfield stadium in Edinburgh.

The health secretary is set to become Scotland’s first person of colour to hold the top role and the sixth overall. He will also be the first Muslim in the office.

He recorded a narrow victory over rival Kate Forbes once second preference votes were taken into account when Ash Regan was eliminated from the contest after the first round of voting.

With a party turnout of 70%, Yousaf received 48% of first preference votes and 52% of second preference votes, while rival Forbes saw 40% and then 48% respectively.

He will take over from Sturgeon who has been party leader and First Minister for more than eight years.

From left: Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes react as the SNP votes for its new party leader at Murrayfield on March 27.Getty Images

The 37-year-old will need to be officially voted in by a majority of MSPs on Tuesday to become the next leader of the Scottish Government.

But with 64 seats in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP is one short of a majority.

This means Yousaf, the MSP for Glasgow Pollok, will need the vote of at least one MSP from another party.

The SNP is currently in a power-sharing deal with the Greens which gives the SNP majority support in Holyrood in exchange for policy commitments and cabinet positions.

Throughout his campaign, Yousaf has vowed to continue working with the party and has stressed the importance of the Bute House Agreement.

His election makes him the SNP’s third leader in 19 years after Sturgeon and Alex Salmond.

Humza Yousaf arrives with his wife Nadia El-Nakla and daughter Amal for the SNP leadership hustings at the University of Strathclyde on March 11, 2023 in Glasgow.Getty Images

Accused of being a “continuity candidate” by his former leadership rivals Forbes and Ash Regan, Yousaf has been a close ally of Sturgeon, serving under her in several ministerial posts.

The SNP leader has said he wants his defining mission to be eradicating poverty, pledging to up the Scottish Child Payment from £25 a week to £30.

He has signalled his willingness to change his own flagship policy of a National Care Service in Scotland and has said he would exempt small firms from the controversial deposit return scheme.

He has described himself as a unifier and has won the backing of much of the parliamentary party.

But polling suggests he is much less popular than Sturgeon with a recent Ipsos poll finding 42% of Scots have an unfavourable opinion of him.

What did Humza Yousaf say in his first speech as SNP leader?

In a speech after his victory was announced, he pledged to “dedicate every waking moment” to serving the people of Scotland.

He said: “As immigrants to this country, who knew barely a word of English, they could not have imagined in their wildest dreams that their grandson would one day be on the cusp of being the next first minister of Scotland.”

The SNP leader continued: “We should all take pride in the fact that today we have sent a clear message, that your colour of skin, or your faith, is not a barrier to leading the country we all call home.

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

He pledged to work to unite the SNP after a “bruising” leadership contest.

He said serving as First Minister would be “the greatest privilege and honour of my life”, telling people across the country: “I will be a First Minister for all of Scotland.”

He also told voters he would “work every minute of every day to earn and re-earn your respect and your trust”.

Yousaf added: “I will do that by treating you, the people of Scotland with respect.

“There will be no empty promises, or easy soundbites when the issues in front of us are difficult and complex, because Government is not easy and I won’t pretend it is.”

He said his “immediate priority” would be dealing with the cost of living crisis, as well working to “recover and reform our NHS and other vital public services”.

But he also pledged to “move quickly” on campaign pledges made to extend childcare, improve rural housing and provide greater support small businesses.

And he stressed he was “determined” to secure independence for Scotland, saying: “Joining the SNP, for me, was an act of hope and also statement of intent.”

Yousaf pledged to “kickstart” a grassroots campaign that would “ensure our drive for independence is in fifth gear”.

The new SNP leader added: “The people of Scotland need independence now more than ever before, and we will be the generation that delivers independence for Scotland.”

Humza Yousaf with his wife Nadia El-Nakla and daughter Amal reacts after being elected as new SNP party leader at Murrayfield on March 27.Getty Images

What was the vote share like?

The SNP’s national secretary Lorna Finn announced that the turnout in the party’s leadership election was 70%.

For first preferences in the STV (single transferable vote) system, Yousaf took 24,336 (48%), Forbes took 20,559 (40%) and Regan took 5,599 (11%) of the vote.

When second preferences were distributed in the second stage, Yousaf took 26,032 (52%) and Forbes took 23,890 (48%).

What happens next?

The SNP will now put Yousaf forward as their candidate for First Minister at the Scottish Parliament.

He will need to be voted through by a simple majority of MSPs.

The SNP have 64 out of 129 seats in Holyrood and will need at least one MSP from another party for Yousaf to become the leader of the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Greens are likely to be kingmakers here and both Yousaf and the Greens have said they would continue the Bute House Agreement which gives the SNP a majority at Holyrood.

If Yousaf becomes First Minister, he will face his MSPs at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.

A cabinet reshuffle will also likely happen this weekend as Yousaf leaves his current post as health secretary and announces the priorities of his government.

How did Kate Forbes and Ash Regan react to Humza Yousaf’s victory?

Forbes said: “I issue my warmest congratulations to Humza.

“I’ve been proud to share a platform with both him and Ash over the last five weeks, and I know we will continue to work together, to make the lives of all of Scotland’s people better on the next stage of our journey to independence.

“Whatever the robust disagreements or frank exchanges of the last few weeks, I am confident we will unite behind Humza as our new party leader in the shared and common objective of independence.

“Uniformity is not unity – we can debate and disagree well, and then work together.

“To end poverty. To speak up for the marginalised. To create better jobs. To serve our people.

“I wish Humza well as he does just that.”

Regan has been approached for comment.

What have opposition parties said about Humza Yousaf’s win?

A Scottish Greens spokesperson said the party was “encouraged” by the victory.

They said: “The Scottish Greens congratulate Humza Yousaf on his leadership victory, and hope he will build on the legacy of his predecessors in delivering a progressive, climate-driven and fair legislative agenda for all of Scotland.

“As partners in the Bute House Agreement, we are encouraged his election will be viewed as an endorsement of these shared values, as Scotland looks to embrace a fairer, greener and more equal future.

“In line with our constitution, and following a capacity spring conference at the weekend in which we discussed the partnership arrangement, we will consult with our party members through Council which will meet later today to agree our next steps.

“We will share those conclusions in due course.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said urged Yousaf to abandon the SNP’s “divisive” plans for an independence referendum.

He said: “I congratulate Humza Yousaf on his election, and on becoming the first leader of his party from an ethnic minority.

“We encourage him to govern for all of Scotland and abandon his divisive plans to push independence relentlessly as the self-styled ‘First Activist’.

“As the main opposition party, we will hold Humza Yousaf to account when he lets the Scottish people down.

“Unfortunately, we have serious concerns about his ability. For the good of Scotland, we hope he does not lurch from failure to failure as he did when he was Nicola Sturgeon’s health secretary, justice secretary and transport minister.

“Humza Yousaf’s election as leader shows that the SNP Government are moving further and further away from the real priorities of the Scottish people to obsess over independence. 

“The Scottish Conservatives will continue to focus on the issues that matter to people across the country, such as strengthening our economy, supporting our struggling NHS and helping families with the global cost of living crisis.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said that with the election of Yousaf, the SNP remains “out of touch and out of ideas”.

He said: “I extend my sincere congratulations to Humza Yousaf on his election.

“While I question his mandate and the SNP’s record, it is important to reflect on the election of what will be the first First Minister from an ethnic minority background.

“Regardless of your politics, this is a significant moment for Scotland.

“But while Scotland faces the twin crises of the cost of living and the NHS emergency, it is clear that the SNP does not have the answers that Scotland needs.

“This chaotic and divided party is out of touch and out of ideas.

“Humza Yousaf has inherited the SNP’s woeful record, but he has not inherited Nicola Sturgeon’s mandate.

“We need an election now, and Scottish Labour is the change that Scotland needs.”

UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Congratulations to @HumzaYousaf – the first First Minister of an ethnic minority background is a significant moment for Scotland.

“The SNP do not have the answers on the NHS or on the cost of living crisis. Only Labour can provide the change that Scotland needs.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “I would like to congratulate Humza Yousaf on becoming the first minority ethnic leader of his party.

“Scotland is crying out for a first minister who will put the people’s priorities first and be a leader for the whole country.

“There are huge challenges facing our country but sadly Humza Yousaf has not proven equal to those challenges in his previous roles. That’s not just my verdict but that of his colleague Kate Forbes.

“On his watch, one in seven Scots are on a waiting list and his NHS recovery plan has completely failed to tackle crises in A&E, cancer care, mental health and dentistry.

“Reasonable, fair-minded people are turning away from the SNP and looking for someone who will fight their corner.

“This country is ready for change and Scottish Liberal Democrats will be part of what’s next.”

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