Who is Humza Yousaf? SNP leader pledges loss and damage funding for global south

 (Jane Barlow / PA)
(Jane Barlow / PA)

Humza Yousaf has pledged an extra £2 million to loss and damage funding for the global south but has said this must not increase countries’ debt burden.

The Scottish National Party leader has spoken out after the  £300 million deal was struck at the Cop28 climate conference in Dubai.

“I was very pleased to see the announcement by Cop in the opening days in relation to loss and damage,” he said.

“What our friends tell us in the global south is that, yes, you need to capitalise and you need to put money in, but that also has to be fair.

“When it comes to the distribution of that money, it can’t add to the debt burden of countries in the global south.”

It is the latest part of a busy period for Mr Yousaf after he praised the efforts of Margaret Thatcher as British prime minister. Previously, he had confirmed his wife Nadia's parents, who were trapped in Gaza, were able to leave the territory.

Mr Yousaf succeeded Nicola Sturgeon as the first minister of Scotland in March.

What is his background?

Mr Yousaf has served as justice secretary, transport minister, and international development minister. He became the first Muslim to be appointed to the Scottish government in 2012.

He broke fresh political ground by becoming Scotland’s first First Minister from an ethnic-minority background.

His father, who is from Pakistan, and his mother, from Kenya, moved to the UK in the 1960s.

At a press conference in February, he said his late grandfather came to Scotland from a small town in Pakistan in 1962 with barely a word of English.

“I don’t imagine in his wildest dreams that his grandson would one day be running to be First Minister of Scotland,” Mr Yousaf added.

He said it “speaks to us as a nation that anyone, regardless of race, can aim for the highest office in our country and not be judged by the colour of their skin”.

Scotland, he said, “should be proud that a grandson of an immigrant can seek to become the next First Minister”.

Mr Yousaf was privately educated at Hutchesons’ Grammar School in Glasgow and he went on to study politics at the University of Glasgow, graduating with an MA in 2007. He undertook a lot of charity work in his youth. After being elected in 2011 as a Glasgow region MSP, he took his oath to the Queen in English and in Urdu.

He did the same when re-elected in 2016, wearing both a kilt and sherwani (a long-sleeved outer coat worn by men in South Asia) to reflect his Scottish and Pakistani heritage.

Council tax freeze

In the closing speech at the party’s annual conference, Mr Yousaf announced a freeze on council tax for residents in Scotland.

He said the freeze was needed to help with “almost everybody in Scotland” left struggling in the “Westminster cost-of-living crisis”.

Addressing the conference crowd, he said that it “feels like too many are struggling, no matter how hard they work”.

Humza added: “I can announce to the people of Scotland that, next year, your council tax will be frozen."

However, it is unclear how money would be allocated to councils as a result.

What’s more, Cosla, the body that represents Scotland’s 32 councils, said it was unaware of the freeze before it was announced during the conference.

Support for refugees in Gaza

Mr Yousaf is also trying to encourage the international community to do more to support civilian men, women, and children who have been caught up in the Middle Eastern conflict.

Humza has spoken about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which has led to the displacement of more than a million people following air strikes from Israel.

The Scottish leader had previously revealed that his wife’s parents, Elizabeth and Maged El-Nakla, were trapped in Gaza after visiting family in the Palestinian territory earlier this month. His wife Nadia’s cousin, who is also in Gaza, has shrapnel injuries.

Taking to social media, Humza shared a video in which he said that Scotland would provide safety and sanctuary for refugees forced to flee the conflict.

Alongside his impassioned message, the first minister wrote: “The people of Gaza are a proud people. Many don't want to leave, and shouldn't have to. But for those displaced, who want to leave, there should be a worldwide refugee scheme. Scotland is willing to be a place of sanctuary and be the first country to take those refugees.”

Scrutiny for Scotland’s NHS performance

While he has pointed to a decade of top ministerial roles, his record running Scotland’s NHS has come under intense scrutiny, with Mr Yousaf facing criticism for long waiting times and for urging the public to “think twice” before calling 999 in September 2021.

Mr Yousaf’s political career began when he became an office manager for the SNP's Bashir Ahmad, the first MSP from an Asian and Muslim background.

Following Mr Ahmad's death in 2009, Mr Yousaf went on to work for other MSPs, including Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.

On the SNP’s fight for independence, Mr Yousaf said he believed in it “with every fibre” of his being.

But he added that, despite being a close ally of Ms Sturgeon, he had some “concerns” about the former first minister’s plan to use the upcoming general election, likely to be called next year, as a de facto second referendum to break away from the rest of the UK.

He said: “I’m not as wedded to it as the first minister.”

Asked when a second referendum might be held, he added: “I’m not going to put a timetable on it. I want independence tomorrow if we can have it, and that goes almost without saying.”