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The POV: SNP Leader Humza Yousaf

Updated: May 23

With the Scottish National Party facing internal crisis, investigation and the Covid inquiry, it is fair to say that Humza Yousaf’s leadership has been blown off the rails before he could even introduce himself and his vision for Scotland. As a result, whilst his political opponent at Scottish Labour, Anas Sarwar, gallops over political ground and enjoys the highest popularity of any politician in Scotland, Yousaf’s net approval rating has hit the floor of -17%..

It is becoming increasingly clear that the sudden downfall of Nicola Sturgeon, once the most popular politician in Scotland and perhaps in the United Kingdom, is a political void too large and powerful to fill. Thus, having been elected as the individual to confront this existential threat to the SNP, wherever you stand, it is only right that we try and understand Humza Yousaf’s path into politics and what his policies consist of. 

Humza Yousaf was born in Glasgow in 1985. His parents immigrated from Pakistan and Kenya to Scotland in the 1960s, and in 1979 his father became the first person of colour to join the SNP Another first associated with the Yousaf surname is that upon being elected, Humza Yousaf became the first Muslim leader of a modern Western democracy. 

His political awakening stems specifically from supporting and standing up for Muslims across the world, having become involved with the NGO Islamic Relief aged just 10, leading to him becoming a spokesperson for the NGO in his adult years. 

He attended Hutchesons Grammar School before going on to study Politics at the University of Glasgow. Whilst studying, he founded a programme that provided packages of food for asylum seekers in Glasgow.

Thus, from a very young age, Humza Yousaf was committed to helping Muslims in need and this, even today, with his strong calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, is the core of his politics.

Further, his path into politics stems in his late teens, when he joined the SNP in 2004 and began working under SNP MSPs, Anne Mclaughlin, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. This led Yousaf to become a Glasgow MSP in 2011 at the age of 26. When he took his oath of office, he delivered it in both Urdu and English and he also wore a traditional coat called the sherwani, as well as a kilt, demonstrating his commitment to his Scottish and Pakistani roots.

Within a year of his election, he was made a minister for International Development, becoming the first Muslim and the first person of colour to join the Scottish Government.

He would go on to serve as Transport, Justice and Health Minister, building up an impressive resume. When serving as Justice Minister, he oversaw the introduction of the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill in Scotland, similar to the Equalities Act of 2010, which saw measures against hate crimes on the grounds of age, race, religion, disability and sexual orientation.

Something that I think is very important is that Humza Yousaf has been open about his mental health, ever since a “breakdown” he experienced when he was Transport Minister, which coincided with his first marriage to Gail Lythgoe had “breaking down”. On Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart’s “The Rest is Politics Leading” Podcast, he revealed that he sought out a therapist for help after spending a whole day not eating, not sleeping, unable to function. Whilst doing so he commented that he thought he would not be able to continue as a Minister or as a politician if it became known he had been struggling with mental health, when in fact a lot of people in politics really struggle.

The culmination of Yousaf’s political rise came with the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon in February 2023. she stated that she could no longer source the energy the role of First Minister demands. In hindsight, with the eruption of serious investigation into her and her husband personally, let alone the SNP, suggests that Sturgeon may have had other things on her mind when she announced her resignation.

In the scramble to replace her, Yousaf stood as the “continuity candidate”, sharing Sturgeon's views and vision. This was most clearly proven, when out of the three candidates, Yousaf was the only one to commit to pursuing the case against the UK Government’s intervention in the controversial Gender Recognition Reform Bill in Scotland, which would have permitted transgender people to self-identity with medical diagnosis; a bill which twisted Sturgeon’s wrists as she held onto the reins of power. This commitment by Yousaf is an alignment with his former boss. 

His main opposition, was Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, who was more conservative than most of the party, and opposed same-sex marriage, likely meaning she was opposed to the controversial bill. 

Her brutal takedown of Humza Yousaf’s record stunned even her own supporters, as she attacked her own; "You were a 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."

Although this may have cost Kate Forbes and her campaign, Humza Yousaf’s figure has been drenched in uncertainty, having been made the poster child of problems with the Government in Scotland. Despite winning the Leadership with over 50% of votes cast, his authority and appeal seems to have been blown to the wind. 

Instead of hitting the ground running, Forbes’ blunt words blow smoke in his eyes, and the excruciating process of investigations not only trips Yousaf up but rips the ground out from beneath him. Then there’s, of course, Alex Salmond, once a great hero of the SNP, now their chief heckler - a fall from grace that haunts the party. And how on earth does someone rack up £11,000 roaming charge on a Parliamentary iPad, and then blame it on their son?

The political circus around Humza Yousaf is a cascading avalanche, and yet in an instant it has been deafened. 

The October 7th attacks carried out by Hamas and the subsequent desecration of the Gaza Strip have carried grave fears for Yousaf personally, as his parents-in-law were trapped in hell on earth. He has been very clear about demanding for an immediate ceasefire, proving that his main directive is his unashamed support for Muslims in need, which has stayed with him from the beginning of his life, to the pinnacle of his political career. 

Furthermore, there is no doubting that the whole of the SNP has united, both in Holyrood and and in Westminster, whilst, the split between Anas Sarwar’s call for a ceasefire, and Starmer’s dangerous mumbling around the topic has created a stark contrast. 

Therefore, although I have much to disagree with Humza Yousaf, behind the political fog stands someone with a clear and continued conviction in my view, something that could define his leadership.

Image: Humza Yousaf

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