Scotland's new First Minister, Humza Yousaf, has become the first Muslim leader of a government in western Europe, marking a significant moment in the country's political history. Yousaf's appointment reflects the ongoing diversification of British politics, with Rishi Sunak, the UK's first Hindu prime minister, and Sadiq Khan, London's Pakistani-descended mayor, also prominent faces of the country's multi-ethnic political scene.
Yousaf's journey to the top of Scottish politics began in Glasgow in 1985, where he was born to a family with roots in Pakistan and East Africa. He joined the pro-independence Scottish National Party in 2005 and was elected to the Scottish parliament in 2011. He has since served in several government roles, most recently in health.
On Monday, Yousaf was confirmed as leader of the Scottish National Party and subsequently voted in as First Minister by lawmakers in the Edinburgh-based Scottish parliament. In his acceptance speech, he spoke of his gratitude to his grandparents, who immigrated to Scotland from the Punjab over 60 years ago.
"As immigrants to this country, who knew barely a word of English, they could not have imagined their grandson would one day be on the cusp of being the next First Minister of Scotland," he said. "From the Punjab to our parliament, this is a journey over generations that reminds us that we should celebrate migrants who contribute so much to our country."
Yousaf's appointment comes five months after Rishi Sunak became the UK's first Hindu prime minister. London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, is also of Pakistani descent. The rise of diverse politicians in the UK is a reflection of the country's multi-ethnic present, shaped by its imperialist past.
"There’s an expectation now, or a familiarity with diversity in British politics, that we don’t see in other European countries," said Sunder Katwala of British Future, a think-tank that studies identity and race.
While the UK has a complex history with issues of race and identity, the growing diversity in politics and public life reflects a broader trend towards acceptance and inclusivity. With around 18% of the population being non-white, and many people having roots in countries the British Empire once ruled, including India, Pakistan, and Caribbean nations such as Jamaica, it is clear that diversity is becoming an increasingly important aspect of British society.
The appointment of Humza Yousaf as Scotland's First Minister is a significant milestone in this ongoing process of diversification. It demonstrates the important role that people from all backgrounds can play in shaping the future of the country, and serves as a reminder that diversity is a strength to be celebrated, rather than a source of division.