Humza Yousaf to be Scotland’s new first minister after SNP leadership race win

Health secretary holds off strong challenge from Kate Forbes to replace Nicola Sturgeon

Humza Yousaf has been narrowly elected as the new leader of the Scottish National Party and will replace Nicola Sturgeon as first minister on Wednesday. He says he hopes to make Ireland one of the first countries he visits after his election.

The 37-year old health secretary, who has promised to continue the socially liberal policies of Ms Sturgeon, held off a strong challenge from his more conservative main rival, finance secretary Kate Forbes. The bruising six-week campaign was marked by a series of bitter and highly-personalised exchanges between the pair.

This came against a backdrop of turmoil within the SNP over alleged financial irregularities, as well as an internal row over the party’s membership numbers that triggered the resignation of several senior officials 10 days ago, including that of Peter Murrell, its chief executive and Ms Sturgeon’s husband

Mr Yousaf, who is set to be the first ethnic minority leader of Scotland, must now heal deep divisions in the party that were exposed by the leadership campaign. His narrow victory margin over Ms Forbes belied the fact that he was favoured throughout the campaign by almost the entire party establishment, amid suggestions from his critics that the race had been set up on a truncated timeline in his favour.


The party announced shortly after 2pm that Mr Yousaf received 48.2 per cent of the first preferences of the almost 51,000 SNP members who voted in the leadership ballot that closed at noon on Monday. This compared to 40.7 per cent for Ms Forbes, and 11 per cent for the third placed candidate, former minister Ash Regan.

After Ms Regan’s second preferences were distributed, Mr Yousaf reached a majority in the contest, with 52.1 per cent, compared to 47.9 per cent for Ms Forbes. She took twice as many of Ms Regan’s transfers as Mr Yousaf, but it was not enough to overtake the lead he had built up after the first round.

In his speech at a function room inside the main stand of Murrayfield rugby stadium in Edinburgh, where the result was announced, Mr Yousaf promised “radical and bold” action as first minister. The members of Scotland’s devolved parliament are expected to vote for him as first minister on Tuesday, before he is sworn in on Wednesday.

In a clear attempt to move beyond the rancour of the contest, he said the members of the SNP were “no longer Team Humza, Team Ash or Team Kate, but united” in the push for independence and to govern Scotland. He also acknowledged that he had to “earn the trust” of the narrow majority of Scottish voters that polls say are opposed to independence.

Mr Yousaf is expected to quickly choose his cabinet after speaking to the Scottish Greens, with which the SNP governs in a coalition. He promised during the campaign to continue policies such as the introduction of gender self-identification for transgender people, which the Greens said must remain a priority despite being blocked by the Westminster parliament.

Ms Forbes, who was heavily criticised early in the campaign for her conservative views on social matters, congratulated Mr Yousaf and said the party would unite behind him.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times