Edinburgh (AFP) – Humza Yousaf was sworn in as Scotland’s first minister on Wednesday, becoming the first Muslim leader of a government in western Europe but already facing unrest in his party.
At 37, Yousaf is also the youngest leader yet of the Scottish National Party (SNP), and is vowing to reinvigorate its flagging campaign for independence.
But after he won the race to succeed the long-serving Nicola Sturgeon on Monday, his leadership was already being questioned after defeated rival Kate Forbes refused to serve in his cabinet.
The outgoing finance minister was offered a more junior role by Yousaf, despite coming close to victory. She ended with 48 percent of the preferential votes of SNP members to his 52 percent.
Yousaf’s allies claimed Forbes declined because she wanted to devote more time to family life after recently giving birth. But in press reports, her supporters were scathing about the job offer.
Yousaf named Shona Robison as his deputy first minister. She will also replace Forbes in the finance secretary role.
As part of Sturgeon’s government, Robison steered through contentious legislation on gender self-identification that has now been blocked by the UK government.
Scotland’s new cabinet includes five members under the age of 40 and, for the first time, a majority of women.
“I have made clear my belief Scotland’s government should look as much as possible like the people we represent,” Yousaf said in a statement.
“As well as being the first ever first minister from a minority ethnic background, I am pleased that a record number of women have agreed to serve, as well as a significant blend of younger and more experienced members.”
Other key roles include Michael Matheson as health secretary, Jenny Gilruth for education, and Angela Constance as justice and home affairs secretary.
The new first minister was sworn in at the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest tribunal.
Yousaf vowed to “well and truly serve His Majesty King Charles” III, despite his stated support for abolishing the monarchy in favour of an elected head of state for Scotland.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak congratulated Yousaf in a phone call shortly after the new SNP leader was confirmed as first minister by the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.
Yousaf said the call had been “constructive” — but that he had stressed to Sunak that “the democratic wishes of Scotland’s people and parliament” should be respected by London.
Sunak said that the two governments should work together on day-to-day policy matters including the economy and healthcare, according to Downing Street.
Addressing the UK parliament in London on Wednesday, Sunak’s Scotland Secretary Alister Jack noted that Yousaf had called for the SNP’s independence drive to go into “fifth gear”.
“I would gently remind him that most Scots actually want him to put it into reverse — to work with the United Kingdom to tackle the issues that really matter to them,” Jack said.
Recent surveys show around 45 percent of Scots back their nation leaving the UK — the same minority recorded in a 2014 referendum which London insists settled the matter for a generation.
The UK Supreme Court last year ruled that Sturgeon’s government could not hold a new referendum without London’s approval.
With the SNP at a crossroads after that, and after its divisive leadership vote, the opposition Labour party hopes to win back seats in Scotland and regain power across the UK from Sunak’s Conservatives.
“The first minister promised to bring the country together, but he can’t even bring his own party together,” Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said.
“Loyalty is being rewarded over talent — but both are in short supply in the SNP,” she added.
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