Hoor Asrar mentions Pakistani-origin Scottish first minister
In an interesting development, the Pakistani-origin Scottish first minister Party (SNP) elected Humza Yousuf as Scotland’s first minister. He has succeeded Nicola Sturgeon and was elected in the session held on 28 March in the Scottish parliament. He became the country’s sixth first minister and first from an ethnic minority background. He is also the youngest first minister at 37, and the first Muslim from Pakistani origin to lead a major UK party. He was elected with 26 thousand 32 votes which corresponds to 52 per cent of the votes cast to the leadership. He was elected by the SNP after a bitterly fought contest that exposed deep divisions in his party over policy and a stalled independence campaign. His elevation to the top political leadership is one of the great triumphs of social mobility. His grandparents migrated to Glasgow in the 1960s and could not have imagined that their grandson would one day lead Scotland. In the space of two generations the migrant family has made the ascent from tailoring in Pakistani town of Mian Channu to the political heights.
With Rishi Sunak serving as UK prime minister and Leo Varadkar as Ireland’s taoiseach, Humza Yousaf’s emergence as the front-runner in the SNP leadership contest has once again given rise to a sense of accomplishment and recognition in his country of origin and amongst Muslims. But in the United Kingdom, the debate surrounding Yousaf is hardly about his race or religion. It is pointed out that mains¬tream opinion is either unaffected by the candidate’s ethnic or religious background other than how this informs opinion on current politics. Interestingly, Scotland is quite unique as Scotland’s Labour Party is led by Anas Sarwar and this is very encouraging.
Humza Yousaf was sworn in as Scotland’s new leader on Wednesday in a ceremony blending formal tradition with his Pakistani heritage, then announced his first cabinet in a move that risked deepening the divisions in his governing party. His victory was confirmed at the country’s national rugby ground after a six-week campaign where the three candidates spent much of the contest criticising each other’s record in a series of personal attacks. The SNP’s unity, which had been one of its strengths, broke down over arguments about how to achieve a second independence referendum and the best way to introduce social reforms such as transgender rights. Yousaf takes over a party with an overriding objective to end Scotland’s three-centuries-long union with England but his predecessor stepped down after the British government repeatedly blocked a route to a new vote on independence. While about four in 10 Scots support independence, the departure of Sturgeon — a charismatic and commanding leader — may initially slow some of the momentum behind a breakup of the United Kingdom.
Before becoming the first minister he served as the Scottish Health Secretary and rose through the ranks of the SNP to become the Scottish government’s first non-white and first Muslim cabinet minister in 2018. His father, who was born in Mian Chunnu, immigrated to Glasgow with his family in 1964. His mother, born in Kenya to a family of South Asian descent, also moved to Scotland in 1968. He was privately educated and went on to pursue politics at University of Glasgow where he was active in student politics and became head of the Muslim students’ association. In 2011, at the age of 26, he became the youngest member of Scottish Parliament when he won from Glasgow. In a nod to his Scottish-Pakistani identity, he took his oath in both Urdu and English and wore a black embroidered sherwani with a Partick Thistle Football Club tartan shawl draped over his shoulder.
Yousaf, the first Muslim to lead a democratic western European nation, was dressed in a black shalwar kameez at Scotland’s highest court, the Court of Session in Edinburgh. Yousaf, who pledged an oath of allegiance to King Charles, has previously said he wants to replace the monarchy with an elected head of state if he achieves his dream of ending Scotland’s three-centuries-long political union with England. He then announced his new cabinet of six women and three men, who were mainly close allies of Scotland’s former leader Nicola Sturgeon, who resigned last month after dominating Scottish politics for more than a decade. But the new lineup could breed disunity as it excluded Yousaf’s leadership rivals or their allies who said they were offered only positions that amounted to demotions. Shona Robison – a close friend of Sturgeon – will serve as finance minister as well as deputy first minister while Angus Robertson will continue to have the responsibility for constitutional issues and external affairs.
Announcing his new team, Yousaf said his cabinet, which has a majority of women for the first time in Scotland’s history, should look as much as possible like the voters they represent. The new leader faces numerous challenges, including uniting his party, charting a new course towards independence from the United Kingdom, and fixing Scotland’s problems with healthcare and education. Yousaf has been a member of the Scottish Parliament since 2011 and has faced criticism in the past. Until recently he was Scotland’s health secretary, at a time when the National Health Service was seen to be in crisis. Scotland has long had Europe’s highest drug death rate and the lowest life expectancy in Western Europe. Yousaf is accused by some of simply being gaff-prone. During his leadership campaign, he asked a group of Ukrainian refugee women separated from their husbands by war: “Where are all the men?” It is pointed out that he faces a tough road ahead after a bruising leadership battle.
In a 2018 interview Yousaf explained in detail how his mother’s family faced racial discrimination in the East African city for being seen as taking away jobs from the local population. The hardship reached a breaking point when his grandmother was attacked with an axe and though she survived, but the family had had enough. Born in Glasgow in 1985, Yousaf was one of two ethnic minority pupils to attend his elementary school. Destined by family expectations to be an accountant, a doctor or a lawyer, Yousaf recalled the scariest moment was when he broke the mould by telling his parents about his desire to venture into politics. He has often noted that his own background is an example of Scotland’s socially liberal and ethnically diverse landscape, even referring to himself as coming from a “bhangra and bagpipes” heritage. Bhangra is the traditional folk music of the Punjab while bagpipes are the quintessential instrument of Scotland.
News of Yousaf’s victory dominated headlines in Pakistan with messages swirling on social media about the historic moment. His appointment is part of a wider movement taking shape globally that previously was acknowledged only informally that members of the Pakistani diaspora have long played a vital role in global history. When Rishi Sunak similarly made history by becoming Britain’s first Prime Minister of Indian descent, many in the South Asian nation were quick to congratulate him with some media channels even claiming him as their own. In any case the Western societies have succeeded in proving that they value talent and appreciate sustained and dedicated effort and adequately reward it. TW