(Edinburgh) Scottish separatists on Monday chose Humza Yousaf to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as the new prime minister, promising to lead Scotland to independence this generation.
Aged 37, this close friend of Nicola Sturgeon inherits the delicate mission of reviving a losing independence movement which comes up against London’s stubborn refusal to authorize the holding of a new referendum.
Until then Minister of Health, he became the first Muslim to lead a major political party in the United Kingdom. He is to be elected Prime Minister on Tuesday by the local Parliament in Edinburgh.
“We will be the generation that achieves independence for Scotland,” Humza Yousaf said in his speech, stressing that “the people” of Scotland “need independence now, more than ever”.
After an internal ballot triggered by the surprise resignation of Nicola Sturgeon last month after eight years in office, he wins against Finance Minister Kate Forbes, with controversial Conservative positions, and Ash Regan, a former local government member.
No candidate having received more than 50% of the vote in this ballot where voters rank the candidates in order of preference, he won the second count, collecting 52.1% of the vote. More than 50,000 SNP members took part in the vote, for an electorate of just over 72,000 members.
Local government in Scotland, a territory of 5.5 million people, has jurisdiction over many issues including education, health and justice. More broadly, this election has potentially serious consequences for the future of the United Kingdom, whose divisions between its four constituent nations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have been aggravated by Brexit.
But support for independence, at the heart of the program of the SNP, a party anchored on the left, has stagnated.
In the referendum held in 2014, 45% of Scots voted for independence.
The independence cause had however been revived by Brexit, which was opposed by 62% of Scots, the SNP seeing in a break with London the way to return to the European Union.
Humza Yousaf says too much time has been spent pointing out the failures of the British government in London and not enough time creating a vision for an independent Scotland. He pledged on Monday to launch a grassroots movement for self-determination.
According to the Ipsos institute, Kate Forbes was the favorite candidate of the Scots, with 27% of favorable opinions, against 22% for Humza Yousaf and 14% for Ash Regan.
But within the SNP, Humza Yousaf came out on top, with 38%. Kate Forbes is not far behind with 37% (22% for Regan).
Kate Forbes had a rocky start to the campaign due to her conservative views. She is a member of the Free Church of Scotland, which opposes same-sex marriage and abortion.
Humza Yousaf embodied continuity with progressive positions on social issues and anchored on the left on the economy, wishing for example to increase taxes on the richest. He was criticized for his record in his various posts in the Scottish government.
Nicola Sturgeon, 52, announced her resignation on February 15 to everyone’s surprise, explaining that she no longer had the necessary energy after eight years in power.
She also found herself in trouble after London blocked a controversial law making it easier to change gender. This law was to allow the recognition of gender change, without medical advice and from the age of 16.
The British Supreme Court also ruled last year that the Scottish government could not organize a new referendum without London’s agreement.
But Nicola Sturgeon said she had “every confidence” that her successor would lead Scotland to independence.