Following a vote on Monday, Humza Yousaf was narrowly elected as leader of the pro-independence SNP and new first minister of Scotland, replacing Nichola Sturgeon.
On Tuesday, lawmakers and all incumbent SNP’s unanimously voted for Yousaf to lead Scotland’s devolved government. The 37 year old Yousaf becomes the first leader of Muslim origin to lead a government in western Europe.
Yousaf won by a tight margin of 52.1 percent of the vote narrowly edging the 47.9 percent garnered by his leadership rival Katie Forbes, and only after second preference votes were taken into account. Ash Regan took third place in the overall vote. His victory came at the end of a bitterly contested leadership battle that exposed glaring divisions within the party ranks. His rival Katie Forbes had based much of her campaign on attacking Yousaf’s lacklustre record in various senior government positions, including Health secretary. Yousaf promised to unite all sections of the SNP under his leadership, with the voting proving that divisions within the Scottish party run deep.
During his election campaign Yousaf emphasised his commitment to scrapping the monarchy, new taxes on the middle classes and permitting individuals to change their legal sex by signing a declaration.
In his victory speech on ascension to the leadership of the SNP, Yousaf highlighted his ethnic and religious background. He recalled his modest roots as the grandson of poor Pakistani immigrants to Scotland who would never have imagined “in their wildest dreams” that their future grandson would become the leader of their adopted country.
“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.
Yousaf’s father Mian Muzaffar Yousaf was born in Punjab, Pakistan and emigrated from the city with his family in the 1960s, eventually forging a successful career in Glasgow as an accountant. His mother Shaista was born into a South Asian family in Kenya.
Yousaf attended the exclusive Hutchesons’ Grammar School in Glasgow. Also, while at the University of Glasgow he became president of the Muslim Students Association and was involved in the Students’ Representative Council.
Yousaf was elected as an MSP in 2011. He was the youngest MSP to enter Holyrood at the time, aged just 26. When in 2012 he was appointed minister for external affairs and international development, he became Holyrood’s first non-white, as well as its first Muslim minister.
However, despite repeatedly declaring that he is a ‘Proud Muslim’ many of his views are considered to be antithetical to the teachings of Islam. During the SNP leadership contest, Yousaf reiterated on many media platforms that his faith will not be the basis on which he legislates or leads. During interviews he has said that he believes that LGBTQ lifestyles and abortion are not morally wrong.
Yousaf stated: “For me it’s very simple…my faith, and I’m a proud Muslim, is not the basis by which I make legislation or policy. There are of course some exceptions which are issues of conscience and we will come to an agreement as a government, as a party to allow a free vote, but for the vast majority of votes I think it’s very clear for me that religion and faith should not be the basis of legislation because people need to… know that the person who is First Minister is not just going to protect their rights but… advance them… They need to know that if there is an attack on our rights, on equal marriage for example, that their First Minister will defend their rights.”
On the issue of abortion he told Channel 4 News: ”I don’t believe that abortion is wrong if that’s what you are about to ask me… even in the Islamic faith of course abortion is allowed under certain circumstances but as First Minister and leader of the country I would say very, very clearly that not only would we want to uphold those rights, I’d be a supporter of safe access, those buffer zone effectively so people can’t protest outside abortion clinics.”
In Islam homosexual intercourse is considered a major sin by Ijmah (consensus) of Islamic scholars. The issue of abortion in Islam is more intricate, with the highest value placed on human life and its preservation.
Mr Yousaf may declare himself to be a ‘proud Muslim’ yet his views on these very important topics are very much out of sync with the consensus of traditional Islam.