Humza Yousaf, the frontrunner to succeed Nicola Sturgeon, formally entered the race this morning. The venue was humble: Clydebank Town Hall. The town once took pride of place in the British shipbuilding industry, but was hit hard by the closure of the yards. Although it has benefited from regeneration in recent decades, deprivation remains a stubborn feature of life there. Clydebank was also home to the Singer sewing machine factory, where Yousaf’s grandfather worked when he brought his family to the UK from Pakistan in the 1960s.
The venue may have been humble but the staging was slick. Standing before a row of signs reading ‘Humza for Scotland’ and ‘I’m with Humza’ – quite the turnaround from the printers given Sturgeon only announced her resignation less than a week ago – the current Scottish health secretary made a US presidential-style pitch. He spoke about the importance of family; his wife and young daughter were in the front row. He talked about being the grandson of an immigrant and what it said about Scotland that he was standing to be First Minister. At the end of his speech, his little girl broke free from mum’s arms and rushed the podium to hug daddy. You’d need to be a hardened cynic not to be moved a wee bit.
On policy, he denied being the continuity Sturgeon candidate (‘I’m my own man’) but hit many of the notes Sturgeon would have. He promised to ‘reach across the divides’ and ‘heal divisions’. This was an apparent reference to internal strife in the SNP over the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill and the row caused by the initial placement in a women’s prison of Adam Graham, who was convicted of two counts of rape but now identifies as a woman called Isla Bryson.
Yousaf reiterated his support for the GRR Bill and intimated that he would challenge in court the UK government’s decision to block the legislation.