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LONDON — Humza Yousaf has replaced Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party in a narrow victory over main rival Kate Forbes, the party announced Monday.
Currently the Scottish government’s health secretary, Yousaf will become Scotland’s next first minister this week. After second preference votes were taken into account, he won 52.1 percent of the vote to 47.9 percent for rival Forbes.
It represents a slim margin of victory over Forbes, an SNP rising star who ran as a change candidate with occasional attacks on Yousaf and the SNP’s record in government. Yousaf is close to Sturgeon and ran promising continuity.
Speaking at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield stadium, where the results were announced, Yousaf vowed to “lead the SNP in the interests of all party members, not just those who voted for me” and “lead Scotland in the interests of all of our citizens.”
Yousaf failed to amass the majority of votes needed to win in the first round outright. He won 48.2 percent of the vote in that round, compared to 40.7 percent for Forbes and 11.1 percent for Ash Regan, the third candidate.
He won only once Regan’s votes were eliminated and the second preferences of her supporters were redistributed to the other candidates under the contest’s “alternative vote” system.
“Where there are divisions to heal, we must do so quickly,” Yousaf said, adding that one of his first conversations as SNP leader would be with his rivals Forbes and Regan to reunite “team SNP.”
And he added: “We are no longer team Humza, team Ash or team Kate — we are one team and we will be the generation that delivers independence for Scotland.”
Sturgeon is expected to formally resign as first minister of the devolved Scottish government on Tuesday, which will begin the process that will see Yousaf take up the post by Wednesday. The Scottish parliament — where the SNP hold a plurality of seats and a pro-independence majority alongside the Scottish greens — will vote to confirm Yousaf as first minister-designate on Tuesday afternoon.
The long-serving Sturgeon’s resignation as party leader in February kicked off the leadership contest, which proved to be a fractious contest between Yousaf, Forbes and the third, anti-establishment, candidate Ash Regan.
Forbes’ bid took an early blow when she came under pressure for her views on social issues, including her personal opposition — as a devout Christian — to same-sex marriage. She said she would have voted against legalising gay marriage when Holyrood did so before she became an MSP.
The criticism got louder after Forbes described the Scottish government’s record under Sturgeon as one of “mediocrity.”
Amid those comments, the vast majority of Sturgeon’s government cabinet rowed behind Yousaf’s bid, including her respected deputy John Swinney.
But the close result shows that SNP members aren’t quite so sure about the health secretary.
He may also struggle with the wider Scottish public. Ipsos polling last week shows that 42 percent of Scots have an unfavorable opinion of the new SNP leader, compared to just 22 percent who have a positive view.
This developing story is being updated.