Humza Yousaf was put on notice by rivals that ‘continuity won’t cut it’ after he narrowly won the bitter five-week battle to succeed Nicola Sturgeon.
The health minister is set to be installed formally as First Minister tomorrow after limping home in the contest by a margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent.
In a speech at the count in Edinburgh, Mr Yousaf admitted that it had been a ‘bruising’ process – and entreated his colleagues to remember they are ‘one team’.
Mr Yousaf narrowly saw off the challenge from Kate Forbes – who had faced a backlash over her devout Christian views – despite brutal attacks on his record in government.
He immediately called for another independence referendum, has pledged to press on with challenging the Westminster’s block on the SNP’s bid to loosen gender identity rules, and has also suggested ditching the monarchy.
No10 immediately ruled out a new vote on breaking up the UK, saying it was focused instead on ‘issues the public care about’.
Ms Forbes benefited from the second preferences of supporters of the other contender, Ash Regan – but it was not quite enough to overturn his advantage.
Both the defeated candidates have committed to support the winner, while the Greens are expected to stay in the alliance that has provided an overall majority at Holyrood. That might have been at risk had Ms Forbes triumphed.
However, Ms Forbes warned that the close result showed ‘continuity won’t cut it’.
And First Minister Alex Salmond suggested the numbers were not impressive given Mr Yousaf had the ‘full force of the SNP establishment’ behind him.
Mr Yousaf fell short of the 50 per cent threshold needed in the first round, but succeeded in the run-off by 52 per cent to 48 per cent. Only 50,000 of the SNP’s 72,000 members voted.
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove trolled the SNP by pointing out that the margin was the same as the Brexit referendum, joking that they would not want a rerun on this occasion.
The MSP – who will become the youngest First Minister and the first from an ethnic minority – now takes on a massive task to restore the SNP’s fortunes after the struggle laid bare deep splits on issues such as gender identity rules and gay marriage.
Labour has been gaining ground north of the border and the prospects of an independence referendum are dwindling.
Humza Yousaf said he is the ‘luckiest man in the world’ today as he was unveiled as the new SNP leader after a bitter five-week battle
Humza Yousaf (centre), Kate Forbes (right), and Ash Regan (left) were battling to become the next SNP leader
Mr Humza was embraced by Ms Forbes after he closed her out of the race
In her final TV interview today before stepping down, Nicola Sturgeon said she felt a ‘bit sad’ but still confident she has made the right decision
Ms Sturgeon congratulated Mr Yousaf after the result was announced
Mr Yousaf told the crowd in Edinburgh: ‘Leadership elections, by their very nature, can be bruising.
‘However, in the SNP we are a family.
‘Over the last five weeks we may have been competitors or supporters of different candidates.
‘We are no longer team Humza, or team Ash, or team Kate, we are one team.
‘We will be the team, we will be the generation, that delivers independence for Scotland.’
Ms Sturgeon tweeted: ‘I pay tribute to all 3 candidates for @theSNP leadership for rising to the challenge.
‘Most of all I congratulate @HumzaYousaf and wish him every success.
‘He will be an outstanding leader & First Minister and I could not be prouder to have him succeed me.’
While stressing she will now try to help Mr Yousaf, Ms Forbes said: ‘It demonstrates, I think, the message of continuity not cutting it is actually a really critical message and all of us need to build on the SNP’s excellent track record over 16 years of listening, of serving and of maintaining the trust of the Scottish people, building on that track record.
‘If we are to continue to win elections, we need to continue to listen and maintain trust.’
Mr Salmond, who now leads the rival Alba party, said: ‘I thought both Ash Regan and Kate Forbes fought brave campaigns against the full force of the SNP establishment, and given that together they received over half the votes, the new leader would do well to listen to what they had to say in the campaign.’
Speaking in the Commons after the announcement, Mr Gove said: ‘Can I on behalf of the Government extend my congratulations to Humza Yousaf on his election as leader of the Scottish National Party. And we look forward to working with him in the future.
‘It has been noted that he won by the margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent, so I hope that SNP colleagues will agree there is no need for another vote.’
In her final TV interview earlier, Ms Sturgeon admitted she is ‘a bit sad’ and ’emotional’ at going.
But appearing on ITV’s Lorraine, she said she is still confident she has made the ‘right decision’ to stand down – and looking forward to life after politics.
Ms Sturgeon shocked the political world in February when she announced she would be stepping down after more than eight years in the job.
She said today that she was looking forward to some ‘free time’, although she stressed she will still be an MSP until at least the next Holyrood election.
Ms Sturgeon refused to say who she is backing for the leadership, insisting whomever won would have her ‘100 per cent’ support.
Asked if she would consider returning if the SNP meltdown continues, she laughed and replied: ‘No I am not planning a comeback.’
The fate of the three candidates was revealed at the BT Murrayfield stadium in Edinburgh this afternoon.
A vote in Holyrood will follow tomorrow to confirm the SNP leader as First Minister.
The leadership contest has seen brutal clashes between candidates and the dramatic resignation of chief executive Peter Murrell – Ms Sturgeon’s husband – following controversy over the transparency of SNP membership numbers.
Mr Yousaf, 37, and Ms Forbes, 32, had torn into each other’s records in government and social views during TV debates.
Ms Forbes, a devout Christian, endured a difficult start to her campaign after she admitted she would not have voted in favour of gay marriage and condemned the SNP’s abortive attempt to loosen gender identity rules.
As well as vowing to continue the battle for independence Mr Yousaf has also said he will continue Ms Sturgeon’s fight with Westminster over her Gender Recognition Reform Act, describing it this afternoon as a ‘power grab by the UK government’.
His rivals both said they would drop the legal battle over devolution rules that allowed Mr Sunak to block the law lowering the age that people can alter their legal gender to 16.
And Mr Yousaf controversially suggested he would want Scotland to become a republic within five years of independence.
Earlier this month he told the National: ‘Let’s also talk about things like monarchy. I don’t know why we should be shy about that, I don’t think we should be. I’ve been very clear, I’m a republican. That’s never been anything I’ve hidden.’
‘Let’s absolutely within the first five years consider whether or not we should move away from having a monarchy into an elected head of state,’ Mr Yousaf said.
The politician added that he would be ‘keen’ to transition to a new Scottish currency as ‘quickly as possible’.
Mr Yousaf’s campaign was not without mishap. A Muslim, he was dragged into the row over gay marriage that enveloped evangelical Christian Ms Forbes, when it was alleged that he tried to avoid a vote on the topic to avoid upsetting religious leaders.
Mr Yousaf arriving with his wife Nadia El-Nakla and daughter Amal for the SNP leadership hustings at the University of Strathclyde earlier this month
Opinion polls during the leadership campaign consistently showed that while Mr Yousaf was the favourite with SNP members, Ms Forbes was more popular with the wider Scottish electorate
Opinion polls during the leadership campaign consistently showed that while Mr Yousaf was the favourite with SNP members, Ms Forbes was more popular with the wider Scottish electorate.
Ex-Scottish health secretary Alex Neil claimed that Mr Yousaf, a Muslim, asked for permission to miss the crucial 2014 vote because he ‘was under so much pressure from the mosque’.
He alleged that Scottish government business was organised for him as an ‘excuse’ to miss the vote, and claimed his former colleague has been ‘dishonest’ about his reasons for not taking part.
Mr Yousaf has repeatedly said that, while Islam opposes gay marriage, he does not use his faith as the basis for legislating.
In November 2013, Mr Yousaf voted in favour of the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Bill but missed the key final vote on the Bill that went through Holyrood on 4 February 2014.
He was branded ’embarrassing’ and ‘out of his depth’ earlier this month over comments to female Ukrainian refugees.
Ukrainian men who are of military age are largely forbidden to leave the country as the war with Russia continues. This means that the majority of the displaced Ukrainians arriving elsewhere in Europe are women, children or the elderly.
Mr Yousaf told the BBC a number of Ukrainian men were elsewhere in the building when he made the remark. He said in an interview later: ‘They of course were rightly saying to me that for many of them their families are not able to make it, not all of their families are able to make it. I don’t think any of the women were at all offended or upset.’
But opposition parties tore into the gaffe this afternoon, with Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie saying: ‘This is further evidence that Humza Yousef is out of his depth. This is embarrassing.’
The result was far from a certainty, as there had been almost no polling of the 70,000 SNP members who will decide the winner.
But wider surveys had put the candidates almost neck and neck, with Mr Yousaf favoured among SNP voters. Ipsos Scotland research gave him a net favourability of 11 per cent, compared with 6 per cent for Ms Forbes.
The Finance Secretary was preferred by the general public, with a net popularity rating of minus 8 per cent, compared with the Health Secretary’s minus 20 per cent.
Labour has been gleeful about the SNP turmoil, with experts suggesting the party could be in a position to pick up significant numbers of seats in Scotland at the next general election.
But Tory ministers have made little secret about their relief at the departure of Ms Sturgeon, who has dominated politics north of the border for nearly a decade.
There was a toe-curling eight-second silence when Michael Gove was asked for Ms Sturgeon‘s ‘biggest achievement’ during an interview yesterday.
The Levelling Up Secretary seemed completely stumped after being prompted to pay tribute to the outgoing Scottish First Minister as he appeared on the BBC‘s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme.
Mr Gove stared at the floor and frowned as the presenter waited patiently for his verdict on the SNP chief.
The Tory minister finally managed: ‘I don’t want to say anything bad or… what’s the word, negative about Nicola Sturgeon.
‘Because I think that she is a dedicated public servant and she has devoted her life to public service.
‘And as First Minister of Scotland I worked with her during the pandemic. I know that she was committed to coming to the right conclusions in the interests of the people of Scotland.
‘I fundamentally disagree with her on many things, but I wish her well.’
Mr Gove seemed completely stumped after being prompted to pay tribute to Ms Sturgeon yesterday