Wins Greens support

Yousaf targets cost of living as new SNP leader

Humza Yousaf: golden thread (pic: Terry Murden)

Humza Yousaf was elected leader of the Scottish National Party today, promising to shift the independence campaign into “fifth gear”, but making the cost of living crisis his priority.

The Scottish Greens Party Council later said its MSPs would support Mr Yousaf in becoming First Minister and to continue with the Bute House Agreement.

Mr Yousaf, aged 37, is expected to become the youngest First Minister and the first from an ethnic minority at a vote in parliament tomorrow, but he will face accusations that he has no mandate. Only 50,000 of the SNP’s 72,160 members voted.

He was elected by just 26,032 SNP party members, 52.1% of the vote, narrowly defeating his main rival Kate Forbes, who managed 23,890 votes after third candidate Ash Regan was eliminated and her 5,599 votes were redistributed.

After being declared Nicola Sturgeon’s successor at an event at Murrayfield stadium, Mr Yousaf pledged to put the SNP’s independence drive “into fifth gear”, saying it was the “golden thread that runs through all our policies.”

He said: “For those of us who do believe in independence, we will only win by making the case on the doorsteps.

“My solemn commitment to you is that I will kickstart our grassroots, civic-led movement and ensure our drive for independence is in 5th gear. The people of Scotland need independence now more than ever before, and we will be the generation that delivers it.”

Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes embrace after he had been announced the winner (pic: Terry Murden)

He said he would immediately demand a section 30 order which would grant the Scottish parliament the power to hold a second referendum. However, it will be seen as a mere gesture as Westminster will not agree to grant one.

In response to concerns expressed by the Green party, he said he would challenge Westminster’s decision to block new laws making it easier to change gender. 

He dismissed media questions about his competence, which had been raised during the campaign, by saying: “I have been part of an election-winning machine for 10 and a half years.”

He said: “My immediate priority will be to continue to protect every Scot as far as we can from the harm inflicted by the Cost of Living Crisis, to recover and reform our NHS and other vital public services, to support our wellbeing economy and to improve the life chances of people across our country.

“I will move quickly to develop plans to extend childcare, improve rural housing, support small business, and boost innovation.

“I will bring forward reforms of the criminal justice system and work with local government to empower our local authorities.

“And as First Minister I will not shy away from the tough challenges, those that require the difficult decisions, but where there is that challenge, I will use it to find opportunity.

“My government will seize the economic and social opportunities of the journey to Net Zero, a country as energy rich as Scotland should not have people living in fuel poverty. The Government I lead will renew and redouble our efforts to lift people out of poverty, to make work fair and make our economy work for people, and to ensure as we become a more prosperous country we also become a fairer country.

Kate Forbes at the election event with daughter Naomi (pic: Terry Murden)

“And while I have had my fair share of battles with the UK Government over the years, and there may well be some more to come. I will work with them, and with other devolved nations constructively where I can in the best interests of our nation.”

However, opposition parties saw his victory as the best possible result as they regard him as having failed in his three Cabinet posts at Justice, Transport and Health. Ms Forbes was seen as the business community’s favoured candidate and she was also more popular with the general voters as the moderate and pragmatic option against Mr Yousaf’s more divisive political agenda.

He said he wanted to work with Ms Forbes and Ms Regan as part of a united team and both indicated a desire for more unity.

Ms Forbes said: “I’ve been proud to share a platform with both him and Ash over the last five weeks, and I know we will continue to work together, to make the lives of all of Scotland’s people better on the next stage of our journey to independence.

“Whatever the robust disagreements or frank exchanges of the last few weeks, I am confident we will unite behind Humza as our new party leader in the shared and common objective of independence.”

Business wants to re-set relationship

Business representatives urged the new SNP leader to tackle rising costs and red tape.

Andrew McRae, the Scottish policy chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “His top priority must be getting the economy back on its feet and that means, on day one, action on energy bills and regulation.”

Mr McRae and Colin Wilkinson, the managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, would also like the recycling deposit return scheme to be paused. Mr Yousaf’s rivals had pledged to do this, but Mr Yousaf has only said small firms should be given longer to prepare for its introduction in August.

Robert Kilgour, chairman of Scottish Business UK said:  “Whilst we congratulate Humza Yousaf and hope he makes a success of being First Minister, more of the same under new management just won’t do.  

“What business wants is a fundamental reset that de-prioritises the campaign for independence and instead harnesses all the Scottish Government’s resource and energy toward accelerating growth to fund public services, boosting productivity in our workforce and collaborating with the UK government on areas of common interest.” 

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