Mixed Reactions in Scotland at Hamza Yousaf’s Incumbency


Photo source: Dawn

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

Hamza Yousaf’s appointment as Scotland’s prime minister is symbolically great for reviving prudish democracy. He is next in line with Rishi Sunak of England and Leo Varadkar of Ireland to lead a Western nation as a minority south Asian. Dr M. Rodwan Abouharb, associate professor in international relations at University College London, told Dawn that Yousaf’s stability as SNP leader will be based upon his performance in office than his ethnic heritage, making his south Asian roots purely incidental. But for this feat, Jawad Iqbal wrote in Spectator: ‘the barriers to progress for those from non-white backgrounds are disappearing, and it is a remarkable development that would have been implausible just a generation ago.’ To many watchers, it shows that in contemporary times there is no country in the world except Britain where one can comprehend this kind of equality and opportunity at the very top of politics.

Although, there are many clamouring for answers due to divisions in Yousaf’s party and the miasma surrounding it. Being a predecessor of Sturgeon in SNP, who was able to unite a disparate political league due to her control freak tendencies and popularity, even coming to the point of suppressing dissent for the greater cause of independence, Yousaf has come at a point where there is no call for a second referendum within the party, but there external questions looming around based on integrity and transparency.

All thanks to the Holyrood public audit committee’s damning report into the CalMac ferries scandal, which revealed the waste of taxpayers' money running into millions and a revelation that the SNP has dropped a membership of thirty thousand due to unpopularity. There is a police probe into six hundred thousand pounds of funds going on, which have allegedly gone missing from the party’s account. According to a Guardian Oped by Dani Garavelli, Yousaf was at the heart of all these matters as SNP's culture of complacency grew. He had either failed to notice it or turned a blind eye to these scandals, making it harder to make an escape plan for reform.

Yousaf has traversed a rough path from where he couldn’t churn out happy endings. Before becoming prime minister, Yousaf landed his first big job in 2012 as minister for external affairs and international development. It was in the transport brief, handed to him in 2016, that his indigenous talent for presiding over a disorder came to the public light. Under his administrative watch, ScotRail became a running joke, as there was public uproar for overcrowding and train cancellations. During his tenure at transport, Yousaf suffered the ignominy of a £300 fine and six penalty points on his licence for driving without insurance, reflecting gross irresponsibility. He then worked as a Scottish Health Secretary and eventually the government’s first non-white and first Muslim cabinet minister in 2018.

His father was born in Mian Chunnu, in the Punjab province of Pakistan. His mother was born in Kenya to a family of South Asian descent, who also moved to Scotland in 1968. Yousaf was privately educated and pursued politics at the University of Glasgow, where he was active in student politics and became head of the Muslim students association. In 2011, at the age of 26, Yousaf became the youngest member of the Scottish parliament, which he won from Glasgow. For a tribute to his Scottish-Pakistani identity, he took his oath in both Urdu and English and wore black embroidered sherwani with a Patrick Thistle Football Club tartan shawl draped over his shoulder. In 2016, he took his oath in Urdu for the second time to pay tribute to his parents, grandparents and his diaspora heritage.

As political analyst Anthony Salamone puts it, the number of politicians at the national level from an ethnic minority has been low, and his appointment will serve as a pioneering effort in Scotland for greater diversity in politics. But, the mood about his appointment hints at a certain pessimism.

In the Guardian Oped, Dani Garavelli further wrote: ‘In addition, Yousaf’s competency is doubted by some of those who voted for him. As justice secretary, he presided over the derided hate crime bill, and during his tenure as health secretary, waiting times for hospital treatment soared.’

Yousaf has had his share of controversies which have thrown him into the limelight many times. Being the wrong man in the wrong place, he was forced to apologise for the failings of a review into the vaginal mesh scandal, a spoiled and clumsy investigation which had left victims indignant. Another misstep was his dismissal of concerns about the state of police buildings as ‘hyperbole’.

Yousaf even tried to make political slogans about uplifting the lives of the marginalised in his campaigns. He started with his openness to tax the wealthy, comparable to Forbes’s conservative economic bent of mind. He also wanted to make summits for anti-poverty, but prolonging them spoke of inaction.

It all shows that Scots deserve a better form of leadership.


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