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Who is Scotland’s new First Minister Humza Yousaf?

SNP leader Humza Yousaf has tipped Shona Robison to be his deputy just minutes after being voted in by MSPs as Scotland’s youngest First Minister and the first from a minority ethnic background.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Yousaf said he had faced racist abuse until he “felt I simply did not belong here” and hopes his election to the top job in Scottish politics sends a “strong message” to people feeling the same.

The 37-year-old succeeds Nicola Sturgeon, who formally tendered her resignation to the King on Tuesday morning after announcing her intention to stand down last month after more than eight years in the post. Mr Yousaf’s election at Holyrood comes after he won the SNP leadership contest on Monday, beating closest rival Kate Forbes by picking up 52% of votes compared to her 48%, when second preferences were included.

Speaking to journalists immediately after leaving the Holyrood chamber for the first time as First Minister, he said: “I’m very pleased to tell you that Shona Robison is going to be my deputy first minister.” The pair are now working to finalise their cabinet, he said, with appointments expected in the coming days before a vote of MSPs on Thursday. Mr Yousaf also confirmed he would have a “minister for independence” in his Government, a role he pledged to create during the leadership campaign.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton all stood against Mr Yousaf for the position of First Minister in the Holyrood vote but failed to secure enough support. Mr Yousaf won the votes of 71 fellow MSPs, with members of the SNP and Greens backing his candidacy for First Minister of Scotland. The 31 Tory MSPs voted for Mr Ross while 22 of the Labour contingent voted for Mr Sarwar. The four Lib Dem MSPs backed their leader, Mr Cole-Hamilton.

Mr Yousaf said he will lay out detailed policies to Holyrood after the April recess. His Government, he said, will prioritise tackling the cost-of-living crisis and he will speak to anti-poverty groups in one of his first engagements as First Minister. He added that he will seek to reform the NHS and social care, extend free childcare, maintain the promise made to care experienced young people, reform criminal justice and tackle drug deaths.

Mr Yousaf went on to say he hopes to “build on the record” of Ms Sturgeon and former deputy first minister John Swinney .He continued: “This Parliament has just given me the opportunity to help steer this nation’s course as we make the next stage of that journey together.“Doing that will be the honour and the privilege of my life.“I will strive every single minute of every day to be worthy of it.”

Mr Sarwar, meanwhile, pledged to continue to work alongside the new First Minister in their fight against racism. On Mr Yousaf’s election as First Minister, the Labour leader added: “It is something our grandparents would never, ever have imagined when they arrived in this country and made Scotland their home.“I know that he (Mr Yousaf) has faced personal abuse and racism, as have so many others who don’t have the platform that he and I are fortunate to have.“ I am proud of the work we have done alongside others to stand against hatred and bigotry, and my promise is that I will continue to stand alongside you in that fight for all of us.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack congratulated Mr Yousaf on becoming First Minister, adding: “The UK Government wants to work constructively with him on the issues that matter to people in Scotland.“ I hope that Mr Yousaf will govern for the whole of Scotland. In particular, I hope he will put his obsession with independence aside and concentrate on working with the UK Government to make life better for people in Scotland.” The Glasgow Pollok MSP will now officially be sworn in as First Minister at the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

Some key facts about Mr Yousaf:

  • After studying politics at Glasgow University, Mr Yousaf began working as an office manager for the SNP’s Bashir Ahmad, the first MSP from an Asian and Muslim background.

  • Following Mr Ahmad’s death in 2009, Mr Yousaf went on to work for other MSPs including Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.

  • After being elected in 2011 as a Glasgow region MSP, he took his oath to the Queen in English and in Urdu.

  • He did the same when re-elected in 2016, wearing both a kilt and sherwani to reflect his Scottish and Pakistani heritage.

  • His father, who is from Pakistan, and his mother, from Kenya, moved to the UK in the 1960s.

  • Mr Yousaf’s first ministerial appointment came under Mr Salmond’s leadership in September 2012, when he became minister for external affairs and international development.

  • He stayed on in a junior ministerial role when Ms Sturgeon became First Minister, though he was then promoted to the transport portfolio and later justice.

  • But his introduction of the Hate Crime Bill while he was justice secretary was not uncontroversial, with critics saying it put undue limits on free speech.

  • Perhaps his greatest challenge has come as Health Secretary, with Mr Yousaf taking over the post from Jeane Freeman in 2021 as she stood down from Holyrood. The coronavirus pandemic was still affecting Scotland at that point.

  • He revealed that the first call he received after being made Health Secretary was from his mother, who was keen to find out what job he had been given in the Cabinet reshuffle. Upon being told he had been given the health portfolio, she said: “What have you done to annoy Nicola?”

  • Throughout his time in the role, he has faced opposition attacks over the performance of the NHS, particularly over A&E waiting times. These reached a nadir in December 2022, when performance against the four-hour target for admission, transfer or discharge fell to just 62%.

  • Mr Yousaf has always emphasised the impact of the pandemic on the health service and the support being provided by the Scottish Government.

  • Mr Yousaf has stood by Ms Sturgeon throughout his time as a minister and MSP.

  • On the issue of gender recognition reform, which has seen rare divisions emerge in the SNP, he has pledged to fight the UK Government’s blocking of the legislation.

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