Humza Yousaf's rise to the top of Scottish politics ends in tears

SNP leadership race to begin imminently after Yousaf announces he is stepping down exactly 13 months after being sworn in as First Minister.

Humza Yousaf’s tenure as First Minister is over – little more than a year after he took the helm of the Scottish Government.

Having risen through the ranks of the SNP over a period spanning two decades, his decision to terminate the Bute House Agreement with the Scottish Greens sparked a backlash that sealed his political fate.

Yousaf became First Minister on March 29 last year, becoming the youngest person – as well as the first Scottish Asian and Muslim – to hold the office since the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

He defeated Ash Regan and Kate Forbes in a ferocious SNP leadership contest, which was sparked by Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation after more than eight years in the role.

Born in Glasgow on April 7, 1985, to Muzaffar Yousaf and Shaaista Bhutta – immigrants from Pakistan and Kenya respectively, Yousaf was educated at Hutchesons’ Grammar School and the University of Glasgow, graduating with a degree in politics.

In 1979, his father became the first person of colour to join the SNP.

Yousaf followed in his footsteps by joining the party in 2005, but Muzaffar never dreamed that his son would reach the very top of the SNP and become First Minister of Scotland.

Yousaf has spoken repeatedly about how his family hoped he would become a doctor or a lawyer.

Instead, he began his political career several years after joining the SNP – working as a manager and aide for the SNP’s Bashir Ahmad, who was the first member of the Scottish Parliament of South Asian heritage and a family friend whom Yousaf had known since childhood.

Following Ahmad’s death in 2009, Yousaf worked for several other MSPs – including Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon – before attaining electoral office himself for the first time as MSP for the Glasgow region in May 2011.

He was one of the new nationalist MSPs who swept to Holyrood in the first majority the Scottish Parliament had seen since its inception.

He has also represented the constituency of Glasgow Pollok since 2016 – wearing both a sherwani (coat traditionally worn by Pakistani men) and a kilt to be sworn in.

Angela Constance and Humza Yousaf of the SNP walk down the garden lobby steps after being sworn in at the Scottish Parliament for the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament on May 12, 2016.Getty Images

First taking on the external affairs and international development role, Yousaf would be moved to transport after four years.

It would not be long until the young MSP found himself in the cabinet, becoming justice secretary in 2018.

Ironically, he had already had a run-in with the justice system before taking the role, when he was caught driving without insurance in 2016.

Humza Yousaf MSP, cabinet secretary for Justice, makes his keynote speech at the 84th annual SNP conference at the  Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre on October 7, 2018 in Glasgow.Jeff J Mitchell / Staff via Getty Images

As justice secretary he would face his toughest parliamentary test to date as he tried to shepherd the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill through Holyrood.

The legislation was panned from the start by critics who warned of a potential chilling of free speech if it was adopted.

It faced a number of changes by the Scottish Government before it eventually passed, but would take years to be enacted, with the law only going live on April 1 this year.

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic also meant attempting to hold the justice sector together as police were forced to enact sweeping new legislation designed to limit the spread of the virus, and courts and prisons faced being overwhelmed.

Following the 2021 Holyrood election, Sturgeon gave Yousaf the role of health secretary, where he was tasked with guiding the NHS out of the pandemic, but struggled to alleviate stubborn pressures.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stands on the steps of Bute House with her new cabinet on May 19, 2021.Jeff J Mitchell / Staff via Getty Images

During his time in the role, he was blamed by some critics for Scotland’s long waits for health care, for its high toll of drug-related deaths, and for its homelessness problem.

Furthermore, he was criticised by some observers in September 2021 when he suggested that Scots “think twice” before calling the 999 emergency telephone number.

Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf is seen during a visit at Liberton Hospital on January 11, 2022 in Edinburgh.Getty Images

Following last year’s shock resignation by Sturgeon – a woman Yousaf heralded as a mentor – he threw his hat in the ring as the obvious candidate to continue her legacy.

Yousaf narrowly defeated Forbes – who attacked his record in government in one of the most blatant examples of civil war within the party since the SNP took office – by 52% to 48% in the second round of voting.

During the leadership contest, Forbes delivered a withering assessment of Yousaf’s record in government. She said in a live STV debate that: “You were transport minister and the trains were never on time, when you were justice secretary the police were stretched to breaking point, and now as health minister we’ve got record high waiting times”.

And Yousaf immediately faced new tests as First Minister.

As he was preparing to visit a health centre in Glasgow – less than a week after his victory – former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – Sturgeon’s husband – was arrested in relation to the spending of £600,000 of crowdfunding while he was head of the party.

The arrest set off a political firestorm and provided one of the defining images of 2023 – a blue forensic tent erected in the front garden of the woman who had led Scotland for almost a decade as police searched the home.

Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell's house was searched by Police Scotland.STV News

Subsequently, former SNP treasurer Colin Beattie and Sturgeon herself would be arrested, all three being released without charge pending investigation in a probe that would hang over Yousaf’s entire first year in charge, and likely more.

Apart from the investigation, the first 12 months of his tenure as First Minister would be punctuated by U-turns, rancour within the party and defections.

Yousaf would also face his fair share of personal anguish when the parents of his wife Nadia El-Nakla found themselves trapped while visiting family in Gaza during Israeli bombing raids following the October 7 Hamas attack.

Scotland's Health Minister and SNP MSP, Humza Yousaf (R) with his wife Nadia El-Nakla (L) and daughter Amal (C) reacts after being elected as new SNP party leader, at Murrayfield on March 27, 2023.Getty Images

They would return home in early November, but some of Ms El-Nakla’s family would remain in the war zone.

However, there was brighter news at the start of 2024, with the couple announcing they were expecting another child.

They already have two children – their daughter Amal is four and Yousaf is stepfather to 14-year-old Maya – and were set to become the first family to welcome a baby while in Bute House.

But the fast-moving currents of Scottish politics took Yousaf in a different direction.

And Bute House awaits its newest incumbent.

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