Humza Yousaf won the SNP election… but is Sir Keir Starmer the real victor? Scotland’s incoming First Minister ‘could help give Labour the keys to No.10’ amid a drop in nationalist support – and party sources believe up to 15 seats are already ‘in play’
- Humza Yousaf won the battle to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP
- It was feared that this could help put Sir Keir Starmer in Downing Street
Scotland’s incoming First Minister could help put Sir Keir Starmer in Downing Street, it has been feared.
Continuity candidate Humza Yousaf has triumphed by a whisker in the bitter battle to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP.
The 37-year-old health secretary is set to be formally appointed as Scotland’s first Muslim First Minister today after defeating rival Kate Forbes by a margin of 52:48.
In his acceptance speech yesterday he demanded a new referendum on Scottish independence ‘right away’, called for Scotland to rejoin the EU and vowed to take Rishi Sunak to court over the veto of controversial plans to allow gender self-identification.
During the election campaign he said an independent Scotland could ditch the monarchy within five years and replace King Charles with an elected head of state.
Continuity candidate Humza Yousaf (pictured) has triumphed by a whisker in the bitter battle to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP
This could help put Sir Keir Starmer in Downing Street, it has been feared
Downing Street responded by indicating that it would reject his calls for a second referendum on independence, saying the public wanted to focus on priorities such as the economy and health. The Prime Minister said: ‘I am very clear that I passionately believe in our Union… I care about our Union, I think it is very precious.’
Mr Yousaf inherits a bitterly divided party that is already sliding in the polls. And experts warned last night that a slump in SNP support could pave the way for a Labour revival in Scotland that might help put Sir Keir in No 10.
Former Labour minister George Foulkes said Mr Yousaf’s victory was ‘a very good result for Labour’. He added: ‘Good candidates are queuing up to stand for Labour in Scotland because they feel the time is right for a Labour resurgence, and this will help.
‘We have got a lot of good ammunition to use against him from his own comrades. He will no doubt try and distance himself from Nicola Sturgeon’s failures, but he is the continuity candidate and he will have to answer for the SNP’s record at the election. It is a very good result for Labour.’
Sir Keir Starmer has visited Scotland four times in the past month in a bid to capitalise on the departure of Ms Sturgeon. Labour currently has just one MP in Scotland. Party sources already believed that 12-15 Scottish seats were ‘in play’ and now say that target has ‘increased significantly’.
Sir Keir Starmer has visited Scotland four times in the past month in a bid to capitalise on the departure of Nicola Sturgeon (pictured)
Polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice said a collapse in SNP support would make life easier for Labour at the general election expected next year.
He said Labour had already narrowed the poll gap with the SNP to ten percentage points, potentially putting ten Scottish seats within reach. But he added: ‘If that lead were to narrow further then the Labour Party starts to win a significant number of seats. The consequence of that is it makes it easier for Labour to win an overall majority at Westminster.’
READ MORE: The Sturgeon ‘continuity candidate’ who wants to keep pushing her trans rights agenda… and get rid of the King: Humza Yousaf narrowly wins SNP leadership battle despite campaign beset by gaffes and infighting – as he immediately calls for ANOTHER IndyRef
In a victory speech at Murrayfield stadium in Edinburgh, Mr Yousaf described himself as the ‘luckiest man in the world’ – and pledged to succeed where Ms Sturgeon had failed by breaking up the UK.
But he also acknowledged that the contest had been ‘bruising’, and appealed for his divided party to put aside its differences. The close nature of the result will fuel speculation that Ms Forbes might have won but for her conservative social views. The devout Christian was urged to drop out of the race after revealing that she would have voted against legalising gay marriage.
During a bitter hustings this month, Ms Forbes rounded on Mr Yousaf, saying: ‘You were a transport minister and the trains were never on time, when you were justice secretary the police were stretched to breaking point, and now as health minister we’ve got record-high waiting times.
‘What makes you think you can do a better job as First Minister?’
Mr Yousaf pitched himself as the continuity candidate following Ms Sturgeon’s shock resignation last month. Yesterday he predicted he would lead Scotland out of the UK. ‘We will be the team, we will be the generation, that delivers independence for Scotland,’ he said.
Mr Yousaf said he also wanted Scotland to ‘return to the EU’.
An SNP source said Mr Yousaf would smash an ‘historic glass ceiling’ when he becomes ‘the first Muslim leader of a democratic Western European nation’.
Mr Yousaf had hoped to win the contest in the first round. But in the end he had to rely on second preference votes from rival Ash Regan after she was knocked out.
For first preferences in the single transferrable vote system, Mr Yousaf took 24,336 (48 per cent), Miss Forbes took 20,559 (40 per cent) and Ms Regan took 5,599 (11 per cent) of the vote.
When second preferences were distributed in the second stage, Mr Yousaf took 26,032 (52 per cent) and Ms Forbes took 23,890 (48 per cent). Turnout was 70 per cent.
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