More than a month after receiving the announcement of departure from Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland finally has a new Prime Minister. On 27 March, Hamza Yusuf was declared the winner of the SNP’s internal election, after a fourteen-day voting period.
Thus, Yusuf became the first Muslim to hold the highest position in Scottish politics, as well as the youngest, at the age of 37.
Yusuf is aware of the circumstances in which he holds the position of Prime Minister. The question of Scottish independence has been added to the list of issues of concern to the general public in the UK, which includes the cost of living crisis and the critical situation in which the National Health System finds itself, and the new Prime Minister. He must face it during his tenure.
Elections per SNP
On 15 February, Nicola Sturgeon stunned Scottish and British politics by announcing her resignation as Prime Minister. By a thoughtful speech, Sturgeon shared the reasons for his departure and his observations in connection with the occupation of his office, as well as the consequences thereof. With this, the face of Scottish independence said goodbye to his position, leaving open many unknowns regarding various issues of Scottish politics.
Having assumed the role of Prime Minister in 2014, after the original referendum on independence was held and the rejection was successful, Sturgeon became the first woman to hold the position, and has been doing so for a long time. His administration during the Covid-19 pandemic has been remarkable, particularly compared to that of Conservative Boris Johnson, then prime minister, and the focus of the so-called Partygate scandal. However, at the start of 2023, Sturgeon is embroiled in various controversies, which many believe may have influenced his decision.
Thus, on February 16, the nomination period within the SNP began for the election of its next leader. This time expired on the 24th of the same month, to then celebrate the voting period between March 13th and 16th. In it, Hamza Yusuf, the Minister of Health, Kate Forbes, the Minister of Finance, and Ash Reagan, the former Secretary for Community Safety, confronted each other. During this time, all SNP members were able to vote for their candidate, with the majority of votes being cast online.
Finally, Yusuf emerged victorious in the party’s internal elections, winning 52.1% of the vote, while Kate Forbes got 47.9%. Ash Regan had been eliminated in a previous election, after receiving just 11.1% of the vote when facing Yusef and Forbes.
Joseph, the third Prime Minister of the SNP, developed his platform. Within this stand out his fight for independence for Scotland, fighting the cost of living crisis affecting the country and the UK, recovering and reforming the NHS and other public services, and supporting the welfare economy to improve life opportunities for all of the country’s residents. The new Prime Minister also highlighted the inclusive and multiracial Scotland that the SNP has built recently.
The question that everyone cares about
However, the installation of a new prime minister raises many questions for British politics, particularly those related to the referendum on Scottish independence. What in 2021 looked like an inevitable event in the UK’s future, has now faced multiple hurdles along the way.
On November 22, 2022, the UK Supreme Court ruled that Scotland cannot hold a new referendum on independence without approval from Westminster. This was highly unlikely, since the conservatives had always rejected the possibility of a new referendum, which is why they proposed to implement it de facto during the next elections. But this plan was not well received, particularly when Independence was experiencing a moment of little support in public opinion.
Sturgeon then elected to call an internal party conference on 3/19, at which the next steps would be decided. However, as of the news of his departure, the event has been postponed.
Yusuf takes office at a time when Istiqlal continues to receive less support than at other times. Recent polls indicate that 46% of Scots support the process, excluding the undecided. However, the new Prime Minister was emphatic in his speech when the election results became known. He believes that the people of Scotland need independence now more than ever, and that this will be the generation that gets it.
The strategy Yusuf will use to fulfill his promise is still not clear. The party seems to have lost its way since Sturgeon’s departure, and has not yet agreed on a new date for the conference that will set its course towards a new attempt to secede from the United Kingdom. Youssef and the female candidates he ran against in the elections rejected the idea of holding an actual referendum. He believes that the path to independence is through popular support.
It is interesting to keep in mind that the new PM has made two relevant points during his campaign for the position and in obtaining it. Being a follower of Sturgeon, Youssef pointed out the need to return to the European Union after achieving independence, and to take a place in a continent based on human rights, peace, prosperity and social justice.
Secondly, he also expressed the possibility of “getting rid of” the British monarchy in Scotland. The procedure for this point is also not clear, and may not have the same support as the idea of secession from the United Kingdom, for although many Scots are critical of Westminster, they are not so in Buckingham.
Immediately after Yusuf’s rally in favor of a new referendum, Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, rejected his request, although he hoped to work alongside the new Prime Minister. This momentary uncertainty seems to be bringing a breather to Sunak, who is facing deep divisions within the Conservative Party, as well as inflation and protests in multiple sectors.
A victory for diversity
Joseph vowed to work every minute of every day to win back the respect and confidence of the Scots. Having won a grueling internal election, and being embroiled in a controversy over suspected fund-raising fraud by Sturgeon’s husband, SNP CEO Peter Morrell, the new PM seems aware of his challenge from the very first moment in office. He also seemed to understand how difficult it would be to restore popular support for Scottish independence, as well as to reunite a party that had been affected by suspicions against Morel and its low membership.
Despite the amount of tasks she will have to take on, it should not be overlooked that her victory represents a significant advance in favor of inclusion and diversity. At a time when immigration has become a major topic of concern in the UK, which has divided Tories and Labor across the union, the rise to power of a Muslim of Pakistani descent with a government with more women than men may mark a change in the way politics are handled in the UK. .
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