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Who is Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister?

During his swearing in as leader of the national party, Yousaf paid tribute to his paternal grandparents who came to Scotland from Pakistan in the 1960s

Newly appointed leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Humza Yousaf, poses for a photograph with his wife Nadia El-Nakla and daughter Amal
Newly appointed leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Humza Yousaf, poses for a photograph with his wife Nadia El-Nakla and daughter Amal (AFP)

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Soon to be sworn in as Scotland's sixth First Minister, a post that effectively means being head of the Scottish government, Pakistani-origin Humza Yousaf is the new face of an old land, and a symbol of a progressive, inclusive Scotland. At 37, he is not only the first Muslim and ethnic minority leader to hold the position but is also the youngest leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP).  

Just a few hours ago, outgoing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted:

Yousaf stands poised on a brink of an uphill battle to revive Scotland's drive for independence following the long tenure of Sturgeon, who has been a close ally and supporter, and will be one of the most-watched figures in world politics as the bid for Scottish independence strengthens apace.

Humza Haroon Yousaf was born in the city of Glasgow on 7 April 1985. He is the son of first-generation immigrants: his father Muzaffar Yousaf was born in Mian Channu, Punjab, Pakistan, and emigrated from the city with his family in the 1960s, eventually working as an accountant. His paternal grandfather worked in the Singer sewing machine factory in Clydebank in the 1960s. Yousaf's mother, Shaaista Bhutta, was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and along with her family, faced violent racially motivated attacks for taking away jobs from Africans; they later emigrated to Scotland.

Yousaf is close to his parents, as he mentioned in a tweet posted after yesterday's poll.

Humza attended Mearns Primary School in East Renfrewshire, and later, Hutchesons' Grammar School, an independent school in Glasgow. He has said that the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York when he was 16 “changed the world and for me”. He was only one of a handful of non-white students in the school, and after the attack his friends reportedly asked him questions like, “Why do Muslims hate America?” Yousaf was always interested in Modern Studies, and has said that his interest in the subject along with his post-9/11 experiences led him to consider politics as a career.

He studied politics at the University of Glasgow, where he was president of the Glasgow University Muslim Students Association as well as a prominent figure involved in student politics in the Students' Representative Council, graduating in 2007 with a Master of Arts (MA) degree.

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. 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.

On Monday, after his election as the leader of the SNP, Yousaf vowed in his speech that he would deliver Scottish independence in this generation. 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, reported AFP.

“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.

During the campaign for the position, he was often targeted by his chief rival, Kate Forbes and others from the party who questioned his work record as minister for transport, justice and healthcare. Forbes claimed that the trains were always late when Yousaf was transport secretary; that when he was justice secretary, the police were in crisis; and in his most recent position, as health secretary, that he had overseen record NHS waiting lists, The Guardian reported. “What makes you think you can do a better job as first minister?” 32-year-old Forbes is reported to have said. “More of the same won’t cut it,” she said. 

Political analysts say that the strong attack on him backfired and galvanised the rest of the party to stand behind Yousaf. 

As for the young leader's personal life, he married former SNP worker Gail Lythgoe in 2010, but they divorced seven years later. He is currently married to Nadia El-Nakla, a psychotherapist, with whom he has a daughter, Amal, while he is also a loving step-dad to his wife's 11-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.


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