Humza Yousaf on the way to General Questions in the Scottish Parliament, on March 23, 2023 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Ken Jack | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Humza Yousaf on Monday was elected the new head of the Scottish National Party by party members.

He is slated to assume political leadership in Scotland following a nomination in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

In a speech following the announcement, Yousaf said his immediate priority would be to “protect every Scot, as far as we possibly can, from the harm inflicted by the cost-of-living crisis, to recover and reform our NHS and other vital public services, to support our wellbeing economy, to improve the life chances of people right across this country.”

He added that he would work on plans to “extend childcare, improve rural housing, support small businesses and boost innovation.”

The SNP supports the campaign for Scotland to gain independency from the United Kingdom and holds a majority of 64 of the 129 seats in the Scottish parliament, giving it control over devolved areas that include housing, education, justice, local government and areas of taxation.

Yousaf, currently Scotland’s health secretary, has served in government since 2012 and was considered the favorite in the race against Kate Forbes and Ash Regan.

He has positioned himself as a unity candidate and has been touted by supporters as best-placed to maintain the SNP’s alliance with the Scottish Greens party. He told BBC Scotland his leadership style compared to Sturgeon’s would be “less inner circle and more big tent.”

Yousaf, whose father was born in Pakistan and emigrated to Glasgow in the 1960s and whose mother was born in Kenya, is set to be the first person of color to lead Scotland. If approved on Tuesday, he will be the country’s sixth leader since the establishment of the Scottish parliament in 1999.

His political opponents have criticized his record as health secretary, with Scottish patients record-high waits at A&E and drug-related deaths continuing to rise in the country.

‘Proud Scot and equally a proud European’

Yousaf’s election follows the surprise Feb. 15 resignation of Nicola Sturgeon, who served as SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister from November 2014.

She became a well-known political figure in the U.K., uniting her party and leading it to win a wide majority in Scotland during three general elections. Sturgeon generated both praise and significant controversy over recent reforms to gender legislation in Scotland, leaving behind a mixed legacy on domestic issues.

Yousaf, an ally of Sturgeon’s, has previously said he would challenge the U.K. government decision to block Scottish reforms to gender recognition legislation, but that he would be guided by legal advice in doing so.

Political commentators say that the new SNP head must manage a party whose divisions deepened during the heated leadership campaign, and will also contend with questions on the way forward for Scottish independence.

In his speech on Monday, Yousaf said, “We will be the team that delivers independence for Scotland,” and stressed that what united the SNP after recent infighting was the shared goal of independence. He continued that gaining support for the cause would need to be done “on the doorstep.”

Sturgeon was leader during the 2014 independence referendum, when 55.3% of poll goers voted against leaving the union.

The SNP has campaigned for a second referendum since the Brexit vote in 2016, in which 62% of those who headed to Scotland polls chose to remain in the European Union. In November, the U.K.’s highest court ruled that any second Scottish independence vote would have to be approved by the U.K. government, which opposes the move.

Yousaf has not committed, as Sturgeon did, to using the next election — expected to be held next year — as a de facto independence referendum.

On Monday, he said he was a “proud Scot and equally a proud European too.”

“Scotland is a European nation. We want to return to the European union and play our part in building a continent that’s based on human rights, on peace, prosperity and social justice,” he said.

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