WITH Humza Yousaf poised to become First Minister of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government, some of the top public offices in the UK will be occupied by people with roots in South Asia. Mr Yousaf has made history as the new head of the Scottish National Party and is set to become the country’s first Muslim or Asian head of government. Mr Yousaf’s grandparents hailed from Mian Channu, and many Pakistanis here and abroad will welcome the fact that a person of Pakistani origin will hold the highest political office in Scotland. Elsewhere in the UK, not too long ago, Rishi Sunak made history by becoming the first person of colour and the first South Asian (of Indian origin) to occupy 10 Downing Street. Meanwhile, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has roots in Pakistan — Karachi, to be precise — while over in Ireland, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar is also of Indian origin. It appears that the descendants of former subjects of the erstwhile British Empire are now running the show there. The rise of South Asian leaders in the UK shows that the political atmosphere has changed considerably; a person of colour leading governments in London or Edinburgh would have been considered an impossibility only a few decades ago. Yet while voters in the UK have shown that they are largely blind to a candidate’s racial origins or religious beliefs and are more concerned about policy, it is also a fact that far-right actors are gaining ground. Groups like the English Defence League and Patriotic Alternative are racist outfits, and loath to see individuals with immigrant backgrounds in positions of power.
However, after the celebrations are over, Mr Yousaf has a tough to-do list. Following the resignation of his predecessor, Nicola Sturgeon, his party is divided internally, while Scotland, like other parts of the UK, faces a cost-of-living crisis. Moreover, the first minister to be is firmly in the Scottish independence camp, telling supporters he will work on “delivering independence for our nation”. This is likely to place him on a collision course with London. It would be something of a historical irony if an individual with roots in Britain’s former colonies were to set in motion the breakup of the UK. But, ultimately, Mr Yousaf’s victory is a win for diversity, and a setback to the politics of prejudice.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2023
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