Humza Yousaf revealed as new SNP leader after fiery five-week contest

Humza Yousaf speaks as he is announced as the new Scottish National Party leader in Edinburgh, Britain March 27, 2023. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

HUMZA Yousaf has been elected as the next leader of the SNP after a fiery five-week contest.

The Health Secretary saw off Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and former community safety minister Ash Regan in their bid to replace Nicola Sturgeon.

Humza Yousaf has been elected as the next SNP leader

Ash Regan (L) reacts as Kate Forbes embraces Humza Yousaf after the leadership result

The First Minister announced in February that she would resign after more than eight years in the job once her successor has been chosen.

Mr Yousaf will become Scotland’s youngest First Minister and also the first ever person from a minority ethnic background to hold the post.

Responding to the news, Nicola Sturgeon said he will be an “outstanding leader” and “could not be prouder” to have him succeed her.

In his victory speech, he said he was “honoured” to be entrusted by the SNP membership after winning the leadership election.

He added: “It is hard for me to find the words to describe just how honoured I am to be entrusted by our membership of the SNP to be the party’s next leader and to be on the cusp of being our country’s next first minister.

He paid tribute to colleagues Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, adding: “It’s felt we’ve seen each other more than our respective families.

“You both have put in an incredible shift and I know that collectively we will work hard as part of Team SNP.”

SNP members had until midday to vote for their new leader – and Scotland’s next first minister, subject to Holyrood approval.

The outcome was announced at the BT Murrayfield stadium in Edinburgh.

The SNP’s national secretary Lorna Finn announced that turnout in the party’s leadership election was 70%.

For first preferences in the STV system, Humza Yousaf took 24,336 (48%), Kate Forbes took 20,559 (40%) and Ash Regan took 5,599 (11%) of the vote.

When second preferences were distributed in the second stage, Humza Yousaf took 26,032 (52%) and Kate Forbes took 23,890 (48%).

Mr Yousaf said it is now time for the SNP to come together and deliver independence.

He said: “Leadership elections, by their very nature, can be bruising.

“However, in the SNP we are a family.

“Over the last five weeks we may have been competitors or supporters of different candidates.

“We are no longer team Humza, or team Ash, or team Kate, we are one team.

“We will be the team, we will be the generation, that delivers independence for Scotland.”

Reacting to the result, outgoing leader Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “I pay tribute to all 3 candidates for the SNP leadership leadership for rising to the challenge.

“Most of all I congratulate Humza Yousaf and wish him every success.

“He will be an outstanding leader & First Minister and I could not be prouder to have him succeed me.”

A vote in Holyrood will follow on Tuesday to select the next first minister.

It has not been a smooth leadership contest for the party, with acrimonious clashes between candidates and the dramatic resignation of chief executive Peter Murrell following controversy over the transparency of SNP membership numbers.

Mr Yousaf, 37, and Ms Forbes, 32, had particularly clashed over their record in government and their social views.

Polls put the candidates almost neck and neck ahead of the result, with Mr Yousaf favourite among SNP voters, according to an Ipsos Scotland survey of 1,023 Scots, with a net favourability of 11%, compared with 6% for his rival, Ms Forbes.

But the Finance Secretary was viewed more favourably by the general public, with a net popularity rating of minus 8%, compared with the Health Secretary’s minus 20%.

Ms Regan – who throughout the contest was widely considered an outsider for the job – had a net favourability of minus 24% among the general public, and minus 7% with SNP voters.

Commenting on the result, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross congratulated Mr Yousaf, but added they have “serious concerns about his ability”.

He said: “We encourage him to govern for all of Scotland and abandon his divisive plans to push independence relentlessly as the self-styled ‘First Activist’.

“As the main opposition party, we will hold Humza Yousaf to account when he lets the Scottish people down.

“Unfortunately, we have serious concerns about his ability. For the good of Scotland, we hope he does not lurch from failure to failure as he did when he was Nicola Sturgeon’s Health Secretary, Justice Secretary and Transport Minister.”

Meanwhile Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton confirmed he will be putting himself forward at tomorrow’s vote for First Minister.

He said: “I would like to congratulate Humza Yousaf on becoming the first minority ethnic leader of his party.

“Scotland is crying out for a First Minister who will put the people’s priorities first and be a leader for the whole country.

“There are huge challenges facing our country but sadly Humza Yousaf has not proven equal to those challenges in his previous roles. That’s not just my verdict but that of his colleague Kate Forbes.”

He added: “I will be putting myself forward in the vote for First Minister. I believe that Scotland is at a crossroads.

“This leadership contest has shown Humza Yousaf will always prioritise breaking up the UK. My priorities are the cost of the living crisis, the state of the NHS and the climate emergency.

“That is what the public want to see Scotland’s Parliament focused on at this difficult time.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar added: “I extend my sincere congratulations to Humza Yousaf on his election.

“While I question his mandate and the SNP’s record, it is important to reflect on the election of what will be the first First Minister from an ethnic minority background.

“Regardless of your politics, this is a significant moment for Scotland.

“But while Scotland faces the twin crises of the cost of living and the NHS emergency, it is clear that the SNP does not have the answers that Scotland needs.

“This chaotic and divided party is out of touch and out of ideas.

“Humza Yousaf has inherited the SNP’s woeful record, but he has not inherited Nicola Sturgeon’s mandate. We need an election now, and Scottish Labour is the change that Scotland needs.”

Viewed as the continuity candidate, Mr Yousaf had greater levels of public support from SNP parliamentarians at both Holyrood and Westminster than the other candidates, with high-profile backers including outgoing Deputy First Minister John Swinney, and new SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn.

Mr Yousaf was first elected in 2011 as a regional MSP for Glasgow and was appointed a junior minister the following year, becoming Justice Secretary in 2018.