EDINBURGH: Scotland’s parliament on Tuesday confirmed Humza Yousaf will replace Nicola Sturgeon as first minister, the devolved nation’s youngest and the first Muslim leader of a government in western Europe.
Yousaf, 37, narrowly won a Scottish National Party (SNP) leadership battle on Monday to clinch the top job, vowing to rejuvenate the stalled pursuit of independence for Scotland.
He then secured the nominations of a majority of lawmakers in the early afternoon vote on Tuesday to become the new first minister, and will be formally sworn in at a ceremony on Wednesday.
Ahead of the confirmatory vote, Yousaf acknowledged he had “some very big shoes to fill” succeeding Sturgeon, but vowed to “continue to ensure that Scotland is a positive, progressive voice on the world stage”.
“I will also argue vigorously for independence,” he added afterwards, pledging in the meantime “to make the best possible use of this parliament’s existing powers”.
Yousaf had promised on Monday to be “the generation that delivers independence for Scotland”, and said he would promptly ask London again to allow another vote.
But congratulating Yousaf on his election, the UK government’s Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said he hopes the new SNP leader “will put his obsession with independence aside”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak echoed the sentiment, telling a watchdog panel of MPs in London: “what people in Scotland want is to see that the governments are working together to deliver for them”.
In the hours before the vote, Sturgeon sent her formal letter of resignation to King Charles III, and left the first minister’s official residence in Edinburgh for the last time. She later tweeted that she wishes longtime ally Yousaf “every success and will be willing him on every step of the way”.
He will be sworn into the role Wednesday following formal approval from the king — whom he wants to dislodge in favour of an elected head of state for Scotland.
SNP leaders took pride in Scotland becoming the first democracy in western Europe to appoint a Muslim as the leader.
“I think what it says about the UK is that we are a welcoming group of nations, and Scotland in particular,” Stephen Flynn, the party’s leader in the UK parliament, said.
He contrasted that with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government seeking “to outlaw asylum seekers” through new legislation to tackle boatloads of migrants crossing the Channel.
The seismic shift in Scottish politics follows Sturgeon’s surprise resignation announcement last month after more than eight years at the helm.
It came after a stormy period for her government, during which support for independence has slipped. Recent surveys show around 45 per cent of Scots back Scotland leaving the United Kingdom — the same tally recorded in a 2014 referendum which London insists settled the matter for a generation.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2023
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