Humza Yousaf vows to bridge divides if elected SNP leader
Health secretary Humza Yousaf has officially launched his bid to replace Nicola Sturgeon as first minister and SNP leader saying he has the experience and the ability to bridge divides that the job requires.
Introduced by culture secretary Neil Gray – who said Yousaf has the “skills, energy, passion and compassion” for the role – on Monday morning Yousaf told an audience of supporters in Clydebank Town Hall that he was “deeply sad” and “gutted, frankly” that Sturgeon has chosen to step down, but that his experience in government makes him the best-qualified candidate to replace her.
“I have the experience,” he said. “I was elected in 2011, been in government since 2012, and have been trusted with some of the country’s most difficult jobs.”
Having been transport secretary then justice secretary before taking on the health brief in 2021, Yousaf acknowledged the challenges facing the health service but said that “green shoots” of recovery were visible and that the Scottish NHS was less impacted by strikes than its equivalents in other parts of the UK thanks to his relationship with trade unions.
Noting that the challenges facing the NHS “would have been worse” if nurses and ambulance drivers were taking industrial action as they are elsewhere, he said that had been “averted” here due to the “trusted relationships” he had been able to build with the relevant trade unions.
In January the GMB and Royal College of Nursing agreed to put strike action on hold while their 2023 pay deal was negotiated, although they and the Royal College of Midwives still have a mandate to strike. They are currently in consultation with members over a pay offer that was made last week.
Addressing divisions within the SNP itself, which is split over key issues such as gender reform, Yousaf said his second reason for standing is that he believes he is the right candidate to “reach across divides, bring people together and heal divisions if necessary”.
He also said he would “work across the political divide” in the best interests of the people of Scotland, noting that his focus would be on ensuring the most vulnerable in society were protected against the policies of the Tory government in Westminster “in their greatest time of need”.
He said his third reason is to fight for independence, something he believes in “with every fibre of my body”.
He said his focus would be to build grassroots support for the Yes movement from “the bottom up so we can definitively say that independence has become the settled will of the Scottish people”.
While Sturgeon’s government had become bogged down in questions of when and how to hold a second independence referendum, Yousaf said he plans not to become “stuck in the quagmire of process”.
He said that by getting out and convincing people of the need for independence it would “become politically impossible to ignore for a UK government of any colour”.