Humza Yousaf, the Next Leader of Scotland, Makes History

The first Muslim, Pakistani-origin, and youngest Scottish first minister assumed his new role today. Less is known about whether he can deliver on his promises.

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Scotland's Health Minister and SNP MSP, Humza Yousaf (C) reacts as the SNP vote for their new party leader on March 27, 2023 in Edinburgh, Scotland (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

By assuming the leadership of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which has a majority in Scottish Parliament, Humza Yousaf became Scotland’s de facto leader, which is under the dominion of the United Kingdom. On March 27, he won 52% of the vote in a tight race vs. 48% for finance minister Kate Forbes, who is socially conservative. 

Yousaf, 37, who has served as the country’s health secretary since 2021, is the youngest first minister of Scotland and the first Muslim and person of Pakistani descent to run the nation. Yousaf’s grandfather immigrated to Glasgow from Pakistan to work at the Singer sewing machine factory in 1962. About 1.4% of Scotland, or roughly 77,000 people, are Muslim, according to a 2011 Census. “[My grandfather] couldn’t have imagined, not in his wildest dreams, that his grandson would be running to be first minister of Scotland,” Yousaf said.

Yousaf joins other firsts in the British Isles. The current U.K. prime minister is Rishi Sunak, the first Hindu, Indian, and South Asian prime minister. The mayor of London is Sadiq Khan, who is also Muslim and the son of Pakistani immigrants. Outside of the U.K., right nearby, is Leo Varadkar, the prime minister of Ireland.

As netizens rejoiced to see so many South Asian people leading countries that were former colonizers of the Indian subcontinent, others began to question the policies behind the optics. One of Yousaf’s key platforms is to gain Scottish independence, as well as to tackle the cost of living crisis and improve health and education outcomes. But can he deliver?

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