Eastern Eye (UK)

How ethnic minority leaders are changing the face of British politics


THE jury is out on whether Humza Yousaf, 37, can deliver independen­ce for Scotland.

But history’s verdict will be clear on his breakthrou­gh as the first Muslim leader of a western European democracy.

The newly-elected head of the Scottish National Party (SNP) joins the growing ranks of leaders from Britain’s colonies who are remaking the face of UK politics.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak is the Hindu son of parents whose familial roots lie in India.

One of the new SNP leader’s chief adversarie­s in the Edinburgh parliament will be Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who is also of Pakistani heritage.

Among Sunak’s most senior cabinet lieutenant­s, foreign secretary James Cleverly and home secretary Suella Braverman, are also people of colour.

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, is now the only white holder of one of the four “great offices of state” in British politics.

One of Braverman’s predecesso­rs, Sajid Javid, was the first British Asian to hold one of the four great offices when he became home secretary in 2018.

Javid’s ascent prompted a joke from London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, in a riff on the city’s long-suffering commuters.

“Typical – you wait for ages for a Pakistani bus driver’s son to come along (in UK politics). Then two come along at once,” Khan joked.

Unlike Khan and Javid’s working-class families, Yousaf’s is firmly middle class. His mother was from a south Asian family in Kenya, while his Pakistani-born father was a successful accountant who could afford to send his son to one of Glasgow’s most exclusive private schools.

Sarwar, who attended the same school, put aside any old-school fraternity to warn Yousaf that Labour was gunning for the SNP.

But the Scottish Labour leader added: “While I question his mandate and the SNP’s record, it is important to reflect on the election of what will be the first ‘first minister’ from an ethnic minority background.”

Yousaf, the youngest SNP leader, said his own experience as an ethnic minority means he will fight to protect the rights of all minorities – including gay and transgende­r people.

The Glasgow-born Yousaf took his oath in English and Urdu when he was first elected to the Scottish parliament in 2011, before progressin­g to become the first Muslim to serve in the devolved government’s cabinet in 2012.

He married former SNP worker Gail Lythgoe in 2010, but they divorced seven years later.

In 2021 he and his second wife Nadia El-Nakla launched a legal complaint against a nursery, accusing it of racial discrimina­tion after it denied admission to their daughter. The complaint was upheld by education inspectors, but the couple have now dropped it, and the nursery denied the accusation­s.

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