Humza Yousaf elected SNP leader: What does this mean for Scottish independence?

The health secretary was the favourite to succeed outgoing leader Nicola Sturgeon - here's what he's said about the fight for independence

What just happened? Humza Yousaf has become the new leader of the Scottish National Party, winning 52.1% of the final vote among party members.

The Holyrood health secretary beat off Kate Forbes and Ash Regan to succeed Nicola Sturgeon, who announced her resignation in February.

Yousaf said: "I feel like the luckiest man in the word to be standing here as the leader of the SNP, a party I joined almost 20 years ago," he said, describing it as the "greatest privilege and honour of my life".

Within hours, Yousaf confirmed will ask the UK Parliament for a Section 30 order “right away, which would allow the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a referendum on independence

Yahoo UK looks at what Yousaf's victory could mean for the SNP's key policy - Scottish independence.

What has he said about Scottish independence?

Sturgeon had suggested the UK's next general election would be a "de-facto referendum" on Scottish independence - however Yousaf previously said he was not "wedded" to the idea as much as Sturgeon.

However, he also said it was not out of the question.

Speaking to BBC Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme last month, Yousaf said he wanted to hear from members of the SNP about the route they wanted to follow towards independence.

"Let's have that discussion, not just at a one-off special conference, as important as these one-off conferences are, let's take [the] approach where we have a conversation with our membership across the country and let's see what ideas are coming from that array of talent that we have within the membership," he said.

SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf taking part in a SNP leadership hustings, at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. Picture date: Saturday March 11, 2023. Jane Barlow/Pool via REUTERS
Humza Yousaf taking part in a SNP leadership hustings, at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. (Reuters)

"I think it will be obvious by the point when we have a sustained level of support for independence, at the moment it's not sustained, it fluctuates from poll to poll, what we’d be looking for is assuring that we have sustained support, majority support for independence," he added, strongly suggesting the SNP under his leadership would be gauging the will of the Scottish people on the matter before pushing for another vote on the matter.

After winning the vote, Yousaf stressed that he wanted an independent Scotland to be a part of Europe, describing himself as "a proud Scot" and saying he was sure the party could "deliver independence for Scotland".

Shortly after winning, he said he would follow the actions of Sturgeon and request a Section 30 and legislate for a new referendum - widely seen by his wing of the party as the “gold standard” for achieving separation.

The UK Government swiftly moved to quash it, with the PM's spokesman saying: "I think you know our well-established position."

Scottish independence: the latest polls

Support for independence has continued to grow over the past 45 years, despite appearing to splutter of late. Recently, results from individual polls by YouGov and Techie show the 'No' voters have a current majority - with 53.8% and 54.7% respectively - while the yes votes from the polls (taken in February) show 46.2% and 45.3% respectively.

The 'Yes' vote has dipped recently. Support for Scottish independence grew following the UK's vote to leave the EU in 2016 - with a poll in 2019 showing that support for independence had reached more than 50%.

However, 'Yes' support reached a real peak during the coronavirus pandemic - with polls showing support for independence grew to 56% in November 2020.

But since 2021, support for independence has waned once again, amid issues within the SNP and wavering support for Sturgeon. However, with a renewed pledge to fight for independence from Yousaf, future polls will be watched closely.

What happens next?

Yousaf has committed to upholding the SNP's power-sharing deal with the Green party, and is expected to meet with Green leaders Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie - without whom he will not have a majority in Holyrood. As the only candidate to commit to Sturgeon's agreement with the Greens, it is expected that they will continue to back the SNP under his leadership.

Britain's King Charles waves as he arrives for a visit to the new European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in London, Britain March 23, 2023. Kirsty Wigglesworth/Pool via REUTERS
King Charles will sign the royal warrant prior to the new first minister being sworn in. (Reuters)

Yousaf must then win a Tuesday vote at Holyrood to become Scotland's first minister. Other parties do have the option to put forward their own candidate to become first minister at this point - but the SNP leader is highly likely to win given the party's majority (barring any shock votes from the SNP's members).

A result is expected by the end of the day on Tuesday and must then be agreed upon by King Charles before Yousaf is sworn in on Wednesday in Edinburgh.