Humza Yousaf, a Muslim and descendant of Pakistani immigrants, was elected by Scotland’s governing party Monday to be the country’s next leader.
The 37-year-old Glasgow-born Yousaf is set to be confirmed as first minister during a session of the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh on Tuesday. He now faces the challenge of uniting his party, the Scottish National Party, and reenergizing the push for independence from the United Kingdom.
Yousaf, who currently is Scotland’s health minister, beat two other Scottish lawmakers in a contest to replace First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. She unexpectedly stepped down last month after eight years as leader of the party and of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government.
SNP members chose Yousaf over Scottish finance minister Forbes by a margin of 52% to 48%, after third-placed candidate Ash Regan was eliminated in a first vote. Turnout among the 72,000 members was 70%.
Yousaf has promised to push forward a controversial bill to make it easier for Scottish people to legally change their gender. The bill was passed by the Scottish parliament but blocked by the U.K. government.
Scottish voters backed remaining in the U.K. in a 2014 referendum that was billed as a once-in-a-generation decision. The SNP wants a new vote, but London has refused to authorize one, and the U.K. Supreme Court has ruled that Scotland can’t hold one without London’s consent.
Yousaf said he would ask the Conservative government in London for authorization to hold a new referendum. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office said the answer remained no.
Yousaf has also said he wants to build a “settled, sustained” majority for independence. Polls currently suggest Scottish voters are split about evenly on the issue.
“To those in Scotland who don’t yet share the passion I do for independence, I will aim to earn your trust by continuing to govern well,” Yousaf said.
Critics say Yousaf, who served in several posts in Sturgeon’s government, bears some responsibility for Scotland’s long healthcare waiting times, homelessness problem and high drug death toll.
Independent pollster Mark Diffley said that while the SNP members who elected Yousaf are passionately concerned about independence, the new leader “will now have to pivot really quite sharply towards what public priorities are, which is not the same.”
“It’s more about supporting people through the cost of living crisis, getting economic growth, improving public services,” Diffley said. “That’s where reality will bite, I think, pretty soon.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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