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Humza Yousaf: Scotland's first Muslim leader

Humza Yousaf: Scotland's first Muslim leader
3 min read
Yousaf said his Pakistan-born parents would not have imagined 'in their wildest dreams' that their son could become the leader of their adopted homeland.
The new SNP leader has pledged to fight for the rights of all minorities [Getty images]

Humza Yousaf, the first Muslim leader of a major UK political party, faces an uphill battle to revive Scotland's drive for independence following the long tenure of his close ally Nicola Sturgeon.

The new and youngest Scottish National Party (SNP) leader, 37, says his own experience as an ethnic minority means he will fight to protect the rights of all minorities -- including gay and transgender people.

The Glasgow-born Yousaf took his oath in English and Urdu when he was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2011, before progressing to become the first Muslim to serve in the devolved government's cabinet.

He has been hailed by his supporters as a polished communicator who can unite the party as support stagnates for the SNP's central policy -- independence for Scotland.

Despite the UK government's opposition to a new referendum, and a Supreme Court setback, Yousaf vowed in his victory speech on Monday to deliver independence in this generation.

And, as his wife and mother brushed away tears, he paid tribute to his paternal grandparents after they came to Scotland from Pakistan in the 1960s barely speaking English.

They would not have imagined "in their wildest dreams" that their future grandson would become the leader of their adopted homeland.

"We should all take pride in the fact that today we have sent a clear message: that your colour of skin or indeed your faith is not a barrier to leading the country that we all call home," Yousaf said.

He also vowed to be his own man as Scotland's first minister. But far from running away from Sturgeon's controversial record, he also says he will keep his experienced predecessor on "speed dial" for advice.

That has fed into critics' portrayal of Yousaf as a political lightweight who will remain in thrall to Sturgeon's camp.

At the same time, he is promising a more collegial style of leadership. "Mine would be less inner circle and more big tent," he told LBC radio.

Racist abuse

Yousaf says he was toughened after facing racist abuse growing up in Glasgow, especially after the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

"I've definitely had tough times," he recalled, reflecting on his time in politics.

"I've thought to myself, 'goodness, is there more that I can take personally' because I also come under a tremendous amount of abuse online and, unfortunately, sometimes face to face."

Equal rights

He says he will "always fight for the equal rights of others" and not legislate based on his own faith.

But one person's constitutional position will not be protected in a Yousaf-led Scotland -- that of King Charles III.

"I've been very clear, I'm a republican," he told Scottish newspaper The National, calling for debate on whether Scotland should move to an elected head of state.