For die-hard supporters of Scottish independence, the election of Humza Yousaf as the new leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) should be a cause for celebration, as he is regarded as the candidate most likely to maintain the policies of his predecessor, Nicola Sturgeon.
Throughout the course of the bruising campaign to replace Sturgeon, 37-year-old Yousaf, who has achieved the significant distinction of becoming the first Muslim leader of the Scottish government, clearly positioned himself as the continuity candidate — someone who would maintain his predecessor’s position on a range of issues, from her unwavering support of Scottish independence to her controversial support for transgender rights.
One of his main campaign pledges was that he would continue with his predecessor’s “progressive” agenda, revealing he will have Sturgeon on “speed dial” from the moment he takes over.
Such is Yousaf’s admiration of Sturgeon that even claimed he had “cried a little bit” when she announced she was standing down.
Courteous and easy-going
A married father of one, he is regarded in Scotland as courteous, pleasant and easy-going — with a knack for a sound bite on TV news.
The grandson of a Punjabi immigrant who worked at a Singer sewing-machine factory in Clydebank in the 1960s, his father became a successful accountant and SNP activist in south Glasgow, putting his son into the city’s Hutchesons’ Grammar private school.
37-year-old Yousaf positioned himself as the continuity candidate — someone who would maintain his predecessor's stance on a range of issues, from her unwavering support of Scottish independence to her controversial support for transgender rights.
He is a devout Muslim who observes Ramadan fasts and attends mosque. Indeed, his strict adherence to his Muslim faith at one point was the source of a political controversy after he was accused of missing the final vote on same-sex marriage in 2014 which his opponents claimed was due to pressure he came under from Muslim leaders — a charge he denies.
Of all the candidates who contested the race to replace Sturgeon as SNP leader, Yousaf was the only one to declare his wholesale support for Sturgeon's approach, which meant he earned by far the most endorsements from SNP parliamentarians and ministers, notably including Sturgeon's deputy and closest political friend, John Swinney, himself a former leader of the party.
Swinney has much experience working with Yousaf, having served alongside him during his spells as health, justice and transport secretary in the Scottish administration. He declared that, as leader, Yousaf would "strengthen the SNP as a force for progressive change in Scottish politics".
'Humza's the best person to bring us all back together and lead us onto better days and an independent future.'
The SNP's Westminster leader Stephen Flynn says he is "delighted" Humza Yousaf has been elected party leader.
Although Sturgeon studiously avoided endorsing Yousaf during the contest, the party's Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, and Flynn's predecessor, Ian Blackford, gave him their public endorsement.
But while Yousaf's narrow victory over his nearest rival, Kate Forbes, owed much to his status as the SNP establishment's preferred candidate, he will have his work cut out if he is to revive the SNP's flagging fortunes, especially on the pivotal issue of independence.
New Scottish Independence poll, Survation 10 - 12 Jan (changes vs 24 - 28 Mar; no Yes-No Q in Dec - Jan Survation):
It is nearly a decade since Scotland held its controversial referendum on declaring independence from the United Kingdom, with the "no" to independence vote achieving victory by a margin of 55 to 45 per cent in 2014. The latest polls suggest only 41 per cent of Scots are today in favour of independence.
Little progress on independence bid
Since then, despite Sturgeon's investing most of her political capital in pursuing the independence agenda, little progress has been made. With the British government firmly rejecting her calls for a second independence vote, Sturgeon suffered a severe setback in late November when the UK Supreme Court ruled the Scottish Parliament could not hold a second independence referendum without the approval of Westminster.
At the time Sturgeon was defiant, telling supporters that "Scottish democracy will not be denied". But three months later she quit, soon followed by her husband, the party chief executive Peter Murrell, and several key ministers.
While Yousaf remains a dedicated advocate of Scottish independence, his first priority will be to rebuild the SNP as a political force after the deep divisions that emerged during the election campaign, especially the bitter criticism he attracted from Forbes over his past track record in the Scottish government.
While Yousaf remains a dedicated advocate of Scottish independence, his first priority will be to rebuild the SNP as a political force after the deep divisions that emerged during the election campaign.
In one of the more brutal attacks he suffered during the campaign, Forbes denounced Yousaf's track record in the three jobs he held before becoming leader.
She claimed that the trains were always late when Yousaf was transport secretary; that when he was justice secretary, the police were in crisis; and in his most recent position, as health secretary, that he had overseen record NHS waiting lists.
"What makes you think you can do a better job as first minister?" she asked him.
In an attack that also touched on Sturgeon's record, Forbes accused him of championing mediocrity and failure.
"More of the same won't cut it," she said.
Yousaf's insistence that he wants to heal the divisions caused by the election campaign are already under scrutiny after he failed to find a suitable position for Forbes in his new administration.
By offering her the relatively junior position of rural affairs minister, which she swiftly rejected, Yousaf has already managed to alienate a key figure in the SNP hierarchy.
Furthermore, with the SNP in disarray following a wave of senior level resignations, Yousaf desperately needs to demonstrate that he can run an effective government if the SNP is to remain in power and perform at the UK parliamentary elections next year.
According to the latest polls, Yousaf assumes the leadership of the SNP with an approval rating of minus 20, which means that he will have his work cut out to show he is the right man for the job.