“I’m forever thankful that my grandparents made the trip from Punjab to Scotland, over 60 years ago, when they did not speak a word of English. I don’t think in their wildest dreams they would see their grandson become the first minister of Scotland!”
On the cusp of being elected Scotland’s new First Minister, since the groundbreaking announcement of stepping down by Nicola Sturgeon, Humza Yousaf stood at the SNP podium and paid tribute to his family. Especially to his grandparents. Both of whom made the opportunity of becoming the first ethnic minority leader of the SNP possible.
Headlines crossing borders
I was at the airport when I heard the news of Humza Yousaf taking over the leadership of the SNP. I flew from Rennes, France, to London Gatwick. On my way out, I glanced at the nearby Independent Newstand — a fresh load of newspapers. Chatter around me, that’s when I heard:
“Never in a million years did I think a First Minister of Pakistani heritage and a Prime Minister of Indian heritage would break up the United Kingdom! Considering the Brits broke them up! Oh, how history unravels itself!”
I stood there, blankly, pondering these words. I looked down at my old boarding pass. I thought to myself: “what the hell is the relationship with the EU going to be now?”
What does this new appointment actually mean for Scotland?
If you are staunch supporter of a united UK, do not fear, this election does not guarantee an independent Scotland. In fact, far from it for now.
Humza Yousaf has succeeded Nicola Sturgeon in what many have coined a wave of “continuity”.
He was secretary of Transport, of Justice, and of Health under her leadership as well as serving as her parliamentary assistant in his early Parliament years.
Both share a close bond in politics so it is clear that Yousaf will follow similar policy-making attitudes to Sturgeon.
He will have multiple challenges to tackle such as uniting the SNP once more, delivering key public policy (which hasn’t had the best record of late) and strong ideas for restructuring the economy.
Questions of a Scottish independence referendum have been shelved for now, though they will most likely re-appear when the next general election looms.
Leveling the playing field
The significance of this change in leadership cannot be understated.
For over a decade, the SNP has risen to dominate Scottish politics with Alex Salmond and then Nicola Sturgeon at the helm.
The Labour Party was pushed out of the political window. It’s now making a comeback.
With the SNP leadership going through a restructuring phase (which is expected when three candidates run against each other for the leadership), Labour sees an opportunity.
Not only does it see the opportunity to win the next general election in Scotland, but it also sees the opportunity to get rid of the Torries in London.
How does this impact Labour’s standing in Westminster?
Both countries are tied together in Westminster’s Parliament since Scotland is not an independent nation state. A general election win would be a massive victory for Scottish Labour and the overall UK Labour Party.
Polling suggests that Labour could win 25 seats in the Scottish Parliament in the next election.
Some have said it is unlikely for the Labour Party in England, under the leadership of Sir Keir Starmer, to form any majority government (throughout the UK) without Labour winning seats in Scotland.
The change in SNP leadership significantly levels the playing field in the UK’s party politics. An environment which has been so dominantly controlled by the conservatives for years.
Why now does Labour see a victory in both general elections?
Many Scots and Brits are fed up with the Tories.
It is fair to say that Labour is regaining grounds in politics due to the Tories’ own troubles rather than bold new Labour policy ideas.
Citizens in both countries are struggling to budget during the cost of living crisis, inflation has sharply risen over the last 12 months, and people are struggling to heat their homes.
The stage is set perfectly for Labour if they can get their messaging right.
It is no secret that the Tories in England have failed to deliver actual public policy. Likewise, the SNP has come under pressure for failing to deliver, especially during the NHS crisis.
If Labour can be united, loud, and clear, there could be a major power shift.
What would Labour leadership mean for the UK’s ties to Europe?
First, there is no doubt that an SNP win would bring Scottish Independence back into the national picture as it did dramatically in 2014. Were Scotland to become independent, the relationship with Europe would change drastically as it would then re-apply for EU status.
Scottish Labour is on the fence. They are focusing on much more pressing issues which have hindered their political influence before. They want constitutional reformations to the power of Westminster and the House of Lords.
For Scottish Labour MPs, using rhetoric of leaving the UK is a major gamble. It is much more obvious that they will use public policy to convince voters to back them.
An optimistic hope for Scotland for now?
Humza Yousaf is the first Muslim leader of a major UK party. That cannot be emphasized enough.
He is also considered a progressive and inclusive advocate in Scottish politics.
When the BBC spoke to South Asian Scots whether he represents the people, they seemed to be more supportive of Yousaf than any other candidate.
One Scot told the BBC: “I’m Pakistani South Asian. So I feel like he’s more relatable than Nicola Sturgeon was. I feel like she was doing a pretty good job. So if he’s able to continue and maintain what she was doing, I think that’s good enough.”
Compared to England, Scotland’s embrace of Yousaf is a testament to their progressive attitudes in politics and everyday society.
On the other side of the border, Rishi Sunak has been criticized for only representing an elitist group.
Due to his background education in one of Britain’s most expensive public schools and his vast personal wealth of over £700 million, Sunak is well out of touch with the public.
Diversity of thought is just as important as political competence – Yousaf offers a much more optimistic path forward for Scotland than what Sunak offers to Britain right now.
Is that optimistic future a roadmap to re-join the EU (for a country that voted to Remain) or a cross-national Labour government uplifting every citizen of Scotland and Britain?