Humza Yousaf: The politician tipped for the top from the start of his career

Humza Yousaf’s rise to the top of Scottish politics reached its peak on March 27 last year – but what followed may not have lived up to his expectations.

He began in 2009 as a political staffer, first working for Bashir Ahmad – the country’s first Muslim MSP – and then first minister Alex Salmond and his deputy Nicola Sturgeon.

In 2011, Mr Yousaf was one of the new nationalist MSPs who swept to Holyrood in the first majority the Scottish Parliament had seen.

Alex Salmond speaking to Humza Yousaf
Humza Yousaf worked for Alex Salmond before being elected to parliament (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Born in Glasgow in 1985 to Muzaffar Yousaf and Shaaista Bhutta, a life in politics was not his parents’ first hope for their son.

Mr Yousaf has spoken repeatedly about how his family hoped he would become a doctor or a lawyer, but instead he chose to study politics at Glasgow University, joining the SNP in 2005.

In his early life, he crossed paths with future Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who is two years his senior and also attended the private Hutcheson’s Grammar on Glasgow’s south side.

He has joked that he has Mr Sarwar’s father, the UK’s first Muslim MP Mohammed Sarwar, on speed dial should interactions between the two in the chamber become too heated.

Elected on the Glasgow list in 2011, Mr Yousaf spent his first year in parliament on the backbenches, before being tipped for ministerial office by Mr Salmond following a year as parliamentary aide to the then-first minister.

Humza Yousaf with the rest of the Scottish cabinet
Nicola Sturgeon would put Mr Yousaf in the cabinet for the first time (Andrew Milligan/PA)

It would not be long until the young MSP found himself in the cabinet, becoming justice secretary in 2018.

Ironically, he had already had a run-in with the justice system before taking the role, when he was caught driving without insurance in 2016.

As justice secretary he would face his toughest parliamentary test to date as he tried to shepherd the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill through Holyrood.

The legislation was panned from the start by critics who warned of a potential chilling of free speech if it was adopted.

It would face a number of changes by the Government before it eventually passed, but would take years to be enacted, with the law only going live on April 1 this year.

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic also meant attempting to hold the justice sector together as police were forced to enact sweeping new legislation designed to limit the spread of the virus, and courts and prisons faced being overwhelmed.

Nicola Sturgeon speaking as Humza Yousaf watches on
He was chosen to succeed Nicola Sturgeon after her shock resignation (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Following the shock resignation of Ms Sturgeon – a woman Mr Yousaf heralded as a mentor – he would throw his hat in the ring as the obvious candidate to continue her legacy.

He narrowly defeating Kate Forbes – who attacked his record in Government in one of the most blatant examples of civil war within the party since the SNP took office – by 52% to 48% in the second round of voting.

By the end of the week he had been elected First Minister, appointed his cabinet and been sworn in at the Court of Session, but in under seven days from the announcement of his win at Murrayfield, he faced his first major political test.

Mr Yousaf takes the oath as he is sworn in as First Minister of Scotland at the Court of Session in 2023
Mr Yousaf takes the oath as he is sworn in as First Minister of Scotland at the Court of Session in 2023 (PA)

The arrest set off a political firestorm and provided one of the defining images of 2023 – a blue forensic tent erected in the front garden of the woman who had led Scotland for almost a decade as police searched the home.

Subsequently, former SNP treasurer Colin Beattie and Ms Sturgeon herself would be arrested, all three being released without charge pending investigation in a probe that would hang over Mr Yousaf’s entire first year in charge, and likely more.

Apart from the investigation, the first 12 months of his tenure as First Minister would be punctuated by U-turns, rancour within the party and defections.

Humza Yousaf with his wife Nadia El-Nakla, daughter Amal and step-daughter Maya
Humza Yousaf with his wife Nadia El-Nakla, daughter Amal and step-daughter Maya (PA)

They would return home in early November, but some of Ms El-Nakla’s family would remain in the war zone.

However, there was brighter news at the start of 2024, with the couple announcing they were expecting another child.

They already have two children – their daughter Amal is four and Mr Yousaf is stepfather to 14-year-old Maya – and are now set to become the first family to welcome a baby while in Bute House.

– Advertisement –
– Advertisement –