LONDON: In an emotional acceptance speech, where he paid tribute to his Pakistani grandparents for migrating to Scotland from Mian Channu over 60 years ago, Humza Yousaf made history on Monday as he became the first ethnic minority and Muslim to win the fiercely contested leadership contest of the Scottish National Party.
He is now expected to be sworn in as Scotland’s First Minister, the country’s first Muslim or Asian head of government, a milestone he said sends “a clear message, that your colour of skin, your faith, is not a barrier to leading the country we all call home”.
“As immigrants to this country, who knew barely a word of English, they could not have imagined their grandson would one day be on the cusp of being the next First Minister of Scotland,” 37-year-old Yousaf said shortly after it was announced that he had triumphed over his party colleagues Kate Forbes and Ash Regan.
He painted a vivid picture of the lives of his late grandparents, when they first arrived in the United Kingdom. “As Muhammad Yousaf worked in the Singer Sewing Machine Factory in Clydebank, and as Rehmat Ali Bhutta stamped tickets on the Glasgow Corporation Buses, they couldn’t have imagined, in their wildest dreams, that two generations later their grandson would one day be Scotland’s First Minister.”
Scottish-Pakistani politician set to become first Muslim leader to head a UK territory
He added: “From Punjab to our parliament, this is a journey over generations that reminds us that we should celebrate migrants who contribute so much to our country.”
Mr Yousaf replaced former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon after she stepped down from the post last month, saying she needed to take a step back.
On his victory, Ms Sturgeon congratulated him and said: “I wish him every success. He will be an outstanding leader & First Minister and I could not be prouder to have him succeed me.”
People from ethnic minority backgrounds celebrated Mr Yousaf’s success as a historic and landmark moment.
“King Charles III will now be inviting a Hindu prime minister of the United Kingdom and a Muslim First Minister of Scotland to his Coronation this spring, sending a powerful message to the world about how much public life in Britain has changed, to an extent unparalleled in comparable democracies,” wrote Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, in an op-ed.
Another Twitter user, Sangita Myska, joked: “My generation of South Asian kids were told by their migrant parents they’d failed at life if they didn’t become a doctor, lawyer or pharmacist. Things just got a lot harder, kids!”
But there were some who pointed to the more practical realities of what the victory means. “It would be a Scottish breakthrough but the criticism would be same as with PM Sunak. The real earthquake moment is when like Sadiq Khan they get elected by people,” tweeted Kevin Diamond.
Humza Yousaf now faces a divided and bruised party, which was further battered by the leadership race.
He made a veiled acknowledgement of these divisions and vowed to do better when he said: “Where there are divisions to heal we must do so and do so quickly because we have a job to do and as a Party we are at our strongest when we are united, and what unites is our shared goal of delivering independence for our nation.”
Mr Yousaf emerged victorious by appealing to 70,000 voting SNP members, but he now has to appeal to the wider public to ensure he can remain in Scotland’s highest office. Polls show that though Mr Yousaf is popular amongst nationalist members, his popularity with the public remains grim.
As former health minister during the pandemic and with the National Health Services in a crisis, the road ahead is strewn with challenges for Mr Yousaf.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar congratulated Mr Yousaf for the symbolic victory, but said the SNP was out of ideas.
“While I question his mandate and the SNP’s record, it is important to reflect on the election of what will be the First Minister from an ethnic minority background. “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,” he added.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2023
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