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Humza Yousaf becomes Scotland’s latest trailblazer but class ‘remains true divide’

The SNP leader has become not only the first leader in Bute House who is Muslim, but his appointment means Scotland is the only western European nation to have a Muslim leader.

Academics say it is a historic moment for UK politics, with Rishi Sunak also the first Hindu Prime Minister in Westminster.

But they also point out Scotland also has a long record of these “firsts” – including Mohammad Sarwar, the father of current Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who became the first Muslim MP when he was elected for Glasgow Govan in 1997.

READ MORE: Scotland reacts as Humza Yousaf becomes SNP leader

Another example is the late Bashir Maan, who became the first Asian magistrate in Scotland in 1968 and one of the first Muslim councillors in the UK two years later.

Dr Timothy Peace, lecturer in politics at Glasgow University, said: “There is this history in Scotland itself of trailblazer politicians from Muslim and Pakistani origin coming to the fore and doing well.

“Which is surprising as Scotland is not as diverse as other parts of the UK and for a long time the only part of diversity in Scottish society was that one area of Glasgow where traditionally the Pakistani community has been based.

“Obviously a lot has happened over the past 20 years, Scotland has changed a lot in terms of society and diversity, and we see that reflected as well in the Scottish Parliament, people getting elected onto local councils.

“But it is surprising I think we have these firsts and these successes in a place like Scotland, which is not as diverse as somewhere like Manchester or Birmingham, or other comparable places around the rest of the UK.”

Peace has co-authored an article on the subject on The Conversation website, which warns while ethnic, religious and cultural diversity is now reflected across the political spectrum, much less has changed when it comes to educational and social background.

The National:

“Class is the true divide in British politics, whatever colour rosette a candidate wears,” it concludes.

Peace said: “If you look at the people in the Cabinet, whether you’re looking at everyone in the UK Government or even just those members who are from a visible minority, I think they have all without exception, been to private schools.

“If you compare the UK Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, there’s still a higher percentage in the UK Parliament of people who have been privately educated.

“But the Scottish Parliament is not far behind – after the last election, it was something like 18% of MSP were privately educated.”

He said there is “absolutely” more work to be done there in terms of making sure there are the same opportunities for those from working class backgrounds.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf: New SNP leader sworn in as First Minister

Co-author Dr Parveen Akhtar, senior lecturer in politics, history and international relations at Aston University in Birmingham, said: “Scotland is the only Western democratic nation to have a Muslim leader.

“In fact, at present, political leadership in Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom is fronted by men of South Asian heritage.

“This is pretty extraordinary if we consider that they are the descendants of immigrants who only arrived in these Isles in the 1950s and 60s.

“Economic migrants who came to the UK to seek a better life for themselves from places that the British Empire had once colonised.

“Within two generations Humza Yousaf, Rishi Sunak and Leo Varadkar are at the helm of their nation’s politics.

“The UK is now led by the children and grandchildren of people from its former colonies.”

But she pointed out the backgrounds of ethnic minorities in high political office tells an “interesting story” about class and education more broadly.

She said: “Yousaf’s father was an accountant. Sunak and Varadkar are the sons of doctors. All three men went to private school.

“In Scotland, the current leader of the Scottish Labour Party is Anas Sarwar, who like Yousaf, is of Pakistani Muslim heritage from Glasgow. Sarwar’s father was the first Muslim MP in the UK and the first Asian MP in Scotland. Anas Sarwar was also privately educated.

“Interestingly, every visible minority in a top post in the present UK Government cabinet, including Home Secretary Suella Braverman, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Kemi Badenoch, the Secretary of State for Business and Trade had a private education.

“Their personal success tells us, perhaps, much about the role of class and education in politics.”


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