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27 May, 2024
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Yousaf's victory in Scotland underscores the changing face of UK politics

Yousaf, 37, joins British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a Hindu and the Republic of Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, whose father is an Indian-born doctor

Source: CNN

When Humza Yousaf took his oath of allegiance in the Scottish parliament in 2016, he wore a gold embroidered sherwani – a traditional South Asian jacket – and a kilt.

“I, Humza Yousaf, swear with honesty and a true heart,” he proudly said in Urdu, “that I will always be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, so help me God.”

He is now expected to make history by becoming the first non-White head of the Scottish government, following his election as leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) on Monday.

The triumph of British-born Yousaf, whose family traces their ancestry to Pakistan, is just the latest reflection of how times have changed as people of South Asian descent occupy leadership roles in the British, Scottish and Irish parliaments.

Yousaf, 37, joins British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a Hindu, who secured the role last October and whose Indian parents came to the UK from East Africa in the 1960s.

And across the Irish Sea is the Republic of Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, whose father is an Indian-born doctor.

India and Pakistan were once the jewel of a British empire that stretched so far across the globe that it was often said the sun would never set on it. But 75 years after the end of the British Raj, many commentators have remarked on how history has come full circle.

Sunder Katwala, director of the think tank British Future, called Yousaf “the history maker” in a post on Twitter.

“The Empire strikes back,” quipped Jelina Berlow-Rahman, a human rights lawyer in Scotland, on the social media platform. “Historic moment for British politics.”

‘Bhangra with Bagpipes’

Yousaf’s father was born in the Pakistani city of Mian Channu, in the country’s sprawling Punjab province that borders India. His mother was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and also to a family of Punjabi descent.

Both migrated to Scotland in the 1960s.

Since 1999, Scotland has had a devolved government, meaning many, but not all, decisions are made at the SNP-led Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh.

In a 2018 interview with Scotland’s Holyrood newspaper, 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, he said. She survived, but the family had had enough.

“It was time to get away and again, it made sense because there was a British call for people from the Commonwealth to come and take on industrial jobs,” Yousaf said.

Born in Glasgow in 1985, Yousaf was one of two ethnic minority pupils to attend his elementary school.

Destined by family expectations to be either an accountant, a doctor or a lawyer, Yousaf recalled the “scariest” moment was when he broke the mold by telling his parents about his desire to venture into politics.

“My dad, who really had so much foresight, said that we were living at a time when we [in our community] needed more representation and we didn’t really have anything,” he told Holyrood.

Yousaf joined the SNP while he was a student at the University of Glasgow and rose through the ranks of the party, becoming a member of parliament in 2011 – the first Muslim and non-White cabinet minister to serve in the Scottish Government.

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 Punjab while bagpipes are the quintessential instrument of Scotland.

Yousaf’s party victory was confirmed after a six-week campaign where he and two other candidates squared off against each other.

On Tuesday, the Scottish Parliament will vote to elect the country’s sixth first minister, a position Yousaf is expected to claim as the head of the party with the most lawmakers.

He takes over a party with an overriding objective to end Scotland’s three-centuries-long union with England – something his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon wasn’t able to achieve after the British government repeatedly blocked a way to a fresh vote on independence.

“We will be the generation that delivers independence for Scotland,” he said in a victory speech. “Where there are divisions to heal, we must do so quickly because we have a job to do.”

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