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Scotland’s leader Humza Yousaf quits after a year

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EDINBURGH: Humza Yousaf announced his resignation as Scotland’s First Minister on Monday (Apr 29), before he was due to face two confidence votes this week sparked by his ditching of junior coalition partners in a row over climate policy.

The 39-year-old quit following a turbulent year as head of the devolved administration in Edinburgh, during which support for his pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) has fallen.

Yousaf said he had “underestimated” the hurt he had caused by unceremoniously ending the SNP’s power-sharing deal with the Scottish Greens in the Scottish parliament last week.

His government had earlier abandoned ambitious targets for the transition to net-zero carbon emissions, angering the Greens.

The opposition Scottish Conservatives then lodged a vote of no-confidence in Yousaf, which was set for Wednesday and which the first minister was at risk of losing.

Scottish Labour also lodged another no-confidence vote in his government.

The Tories, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens all said they would vote against Yousaf in the personal vote, forcing him to seek the backing of the sole lawmaker from the pro-independence Alba party.

Yousaf – the first Muslim leader of a major United Kingdom political party – told reporters at his official residence that he thought winning was “absolutely possible”.

But he added that he was “not willing to trade in my values or principles or do deals with whomever simply for retaining power”.

“I have concluded that repairing our relationships across the political divide can only be done with someone else at the helm,” Yousaf said.

DIVISIONS

Yousaf only became Scotland’s leader 13 months ago, after Nicola Sturgeon announced her surprise resignation, citing tiredness after eight years in charge.

He defeated Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, who later defected to Alba, in a bruising contest that exposed splits in the party between those on the left wing and others closer to the right.

Parliament now has 28 days to choose a new first minister.

Yousaf said he would continue as first minister until his successor was elected “in order to ensure a smooth and orderly transition”.

He told the SNP leadership that the contest should start “as soon as possible”.

Forbes is the early favourite but former SNP head and ex-deputy first minister John Swinney is also being touted as an interim leader.

Yousaf’s leadership was quickly plunged into turmoil when Sturgeon was arrested with her husband, Peter Murrell, over claims of mismanagement of SNP finances.

Murrell was charged in the case earlier this month. Sturgeon has not been charged.

CONTROVERSIES

Sturgeon oversaw a surge in support for the SNP, particularly after Brexit – in which Scotland opposed leaving the European Union (EU) – and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the SNP, which has run the Scottish government since 2007, has suffered a drop in popularity under Yousaf.

He has come under pressure over controversial new laws which made it an offence to stir up hatred against a number of groups, including transgender people.

The law has been heavily criticised, including most prominently by “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, who lives in Edinburgh.

Relations between the SNP and the Greens were also strained by the recent pause in prescribing puberty blockers in Scotland.

Some within the SNP wanted Yousaf to end the coalition with the Greens because they felt the deal was pulling the party further leftwards.

“He mismanaged the break-up and failed to plan how he would govern without the Greens,” James Mitchell, a politics professor at Edinburgh University, told AFP.

“It was yet another example of the poor, often rash, decision-making that has marked his leadership.”

The SNP’s slump has also come in the context of a resurgent Labour party, which is tipped to win a UK general election due later this year.

The SNP has 63 members in the 129-seat Scottish parliament – two short of a majority – and now runs a minority administration. The next election is due in 2026.

Critics have accused the SNP, in power in Edinburgh for 17 years, of focusing on pursuing independence at the expense of issues like the cost-of-living crisis and health.

The party has struggled to build momentum for another independence vote since Scotland voted against leaving the UK in a referendum in 2014.

That is despite Scotland having since been taken out of the EU, even though it voted to remain part of the bloc in a separate 2016 vote.

The Scottish Parliament, re-established in 1999, has limited powers to set policy in areas such as health, education, transport and the environment.

The UK government in London retains powers for countrywide issues such as defence and foreign policy.

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