Humza Yousaf MSP


A FIVE minute walk from headquarters is all it takes to set off the security alarms entering parliament writes Editor Jack Paterson - I managed that having told the security man on duty that I had nothing in my pockets that would set off the security sensor. Taking the offending mobile from my back pocket, I was ushered through and into the waiting arms (well almost) of Humza Yousaf's assistant Shona McAlpine.

TRICIA Marwick's voice is drifting down from the television monitor in Humza's office as his wife, Essex-born (though technically Scottish, according to Humza) Gail works away at a computer screen.

Elected on the Glasgow list, Humza Yousaf is regarded as one of the rising stars of the SNP. He is also late. Suddenly he hurriedly appears, now 15 minutes behind schedule. 'Book me a taxi for half past six please', he calls to Shona, 'have to be at Bute House. Sorry Jack, that went on a bit longer than I thought it would.'

He sits down looks across the small table and simply starts chatting, so I ask how he's adapting to life in parliament?

'Not too bad actually. I was second on the list and was quite confident that I stood a good chance, so although I didn't want to tempt fate I made some preparations to be here in advance. And I didn't feel too strange coming back here as an MSP thanks to my time working for the late Bashir Ahmad in the last Parliament, so I tend to know my way around the place. For others though it's different - some members from other parties still have that 'caught in the headlights' look about them. They've almost been dumped here in a way as they certainly didn't expect to be elected. The sheer number of SNP members has made it a whole lot easier to learn quickly as well, as we buddy up a bit more than our opposition because there are just so many of us.'

Resplendent in a Pakistani traditional sherwani edged with a touch of tartan, Humza famously gave his oath in English and Urdu when being sworn in as an MSP, a sure sign that he is proud of a family background that has more twists and turns than a United Nations' roadmap.

'I come from a big family. My dad Muzaffar came to Scotland in 1968 from Pakistan, my mum Shaaista comes from the Asian community in Kenya and my grandparents come originally from Kuwait and India. Plus Gail's father is English. So if Gail and I are fortunate enough to have children, well, we'll just about complete the set.
'When my dad came to live in Scotland the Asian community here was about 99 per cent Labour supporting and stayed that way for years. It's far from that now. I would say that in my area about eight in every ten Asians voted SNP, which is a real sign that as a distinctive community they are well aware of the case for Independence. Labour was always the big hurdle for the SNP within the Asian community, just as they have been for decades throughout the country.

'Dad went to Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow, the same school that former Labour MP Mohammed Sarwar attended and they've had some epic battles over the years. Dad loves predictions and has always insisted that Independence would come; he's always been absolutely convinced. At a recent function that Gail and I attended, he met Mr Sarwar and told him that his party would actually help bring us Independence. He didn't look too pleased, but dad loved it. Then he asked him how far ahead he is on points now that the SNP has swept past Labour and left them in tatters. Mr Sarwar just smiled, but he knows.

'Dad was ecstatic about the election result and enjoys telling anyone who will listen that he was the first Asian SNP member when he joined in 1979. He's really proud of that and laughs when he tells his story, because when he went along to join he was aware that another person was standing close by. When he looked around he found a Chinese bloke standing alongside him. He signed up at the same time! It was maybe typical of the Party, but they saw a window of opportunity when dad joined and before he knew it he and his new Chinese pal were hustled down to the offices of the Glasgow Evening Times to become a feature under the heading "International Nationalists" which is very appropriate, I think.'

Turning to matters political, Humza speaks with a passion for Scotland and clearly shares the vision of a better, fairer and Independent country. First though there is the Labour party to contend with an organisation that he feels has well and truly lost its way.

'What we're doing even this early is setting out our stall for the future and laying the groundwork for a referendum. The Labour opposition are aware of this of course, but at the moment at least are in no fit state to take us on properly. They will need time to change, to re-organise and to re-group. I was speaking to a researcher just yesterday; I had known him before the election and bumped into him in the corridor. He a said to me, "you know what Humza, the SNP out-laboured Labour" and I knew just what he meant. A Labour MSP who just recently lost his seat summed it up for me too when he said that "Scottish Labour has lost its Scottish purpose, it has lost what made it distinct from the party in London". That neatly sums up the dilemma they now face.

'The Labour Party have relied on a West of Scotland secretariat for so long that they now suffer from a very real malaise. While they flounder, we in the SNP have a number of exciting young talented folk coming through, people like Derek Mackay, MSP for Renfrewshire North & West, and South Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine to name but two. There are a whole lot of us now and I am confident that we will keep the momentum going. Labour can snipe away with their unionist colleagues but we have a great advantage when it comes to people. I think we're in great shape for the momentous five years ahead, no matter who is leading the other parties.'

Humza is extremely proud of his dual nationality, a family background that has stood him in good stead and helped set the scene for the attraction of the modern SNP.

'I'm really a victim of good fortune. My parents are really open minded people and backed me all the way when I chose to go into politics. You might say that I managed to avoid the kind of career that so many from the Asian community go into. It maybe sounds a bit stereotypical, but having worked as a kid in a cash and carry I knew what hard work was. When we would return to school after the holidays our teacher would ask what we had done to keep ourselves busy. My pals would say that they did a paper round for about nine hours a week or maybe helped out on milk rounds. Then it would be my turn and I'd say working in a cash and carry for 45 hours a week. It would go a bit quiet then.

'I'm happy to be in politics but a life as a doctor or lawyer wouldn't have fazed me. I was ready for hard work and still am. The work ethic my parents instilled in me was invaluable. I'm proud to be from a Pakistani background and proud to be Scottish. I think I have picked up the positives from both traditions. I'm lucky I suppose.'
Choosing a political career over a profession wasn't originally clear cut for Humza. In fact, it wasn't his first choice at all.

'I actually applied to do law at uni at first. Then having considered my options and watched the changing face of Scotland, I opted instead for politics at Glasgow University. I wasn't particularly politically active at that time, but my parents told me they would support any choice I made and of course family friendships played their part in influencing me too. Bashir Ahmad, the first Muslim MSP, contributed greatly to my outlook. I had a great deal of respect for him. He was a passionate advocate of Independence and a real character into the bargain. He was also famous for giving gifts of mangoes when he called on us or met friends and colleagues. When I was wee I called him Uncle Mango. That was a trademark that never went away. Later he would hand out mangoes to prominent Party members, the First Minister amongst them. I never found out what they made of it, it was just part of him I suppose.'
'As I said, Bashir certainly influenced me greatly. I remember listening to Alex Salmond talking about the illegal war in Iraq and thinking how right he was and that he was seeing world events from a Scots perspective. I backed Independence and felt that the SNP was the right choice for me and for Scotland. Then Bashir played his part and I found myself working in Alex's Maiden Street office in Peterhead.  I loved that. There I was, a brown guy with long hair, all suited and booted in downtown Peterheid. I wasn't sure if the town was ready for me and being young was not at all sure what to expect, but the people were fantastic. I quickly felt right at home, enjoyed the work and threw myself wholeheartedly into what was a fast learning experience. I will always remember those days fondly.'
These days Humza is clear as to the future he wants for Scotland and the opportunity we now have - even though his cross-border contacts struggle at times to understand where his priorities lie.
'I speak to many folk in the Asian community both here and in England. Recently an English person actually asked me if becoming an MP would be my next step now that I was an MSP. That annoyed me a bit, so I just asked him why I would want to do that. I also pointed out to him that if Independence is going to be won it will be won here in Scotland and at Holyrood, nowhere else. But I did understand that his question was formed from an English viewpoint. When I come across this I always take every opportunity to explain what nationalism in the SNP context actually means. Because so many people within the Asian community have cross-border contacts this is always worthwhile. I tell them that the SNP delivers an all-inclusive civic nationalism, that we welcome everyone and that we're all Jock Tamson's bairns and that's why I'm a member. They get it eventually, although they do struggle with the Jock Tamson bit for a while.

'For me the SNP provides Scotland with an exciting national voice and one that doesn't create conflict. In England their flag, along with the union flag, has been hijacked big time by the far right, and comes complete with the worst of right-wing reactionary rhetoric. No wonder people in England get confused about us at times. We have to educate them about the SNP - with us it's not about which box you tick, just who you are and what you want. For everyone I know that means Independence and a fairer, inclusive society.'

Away from the political arena, Humza is a keen follower of Celtic FC and gets to as many games as he can. Appealing to as many people as possible is a big part of his political make-up though, which might just explain why the tartan featured on his sherwani was actually the Partick Thistle tartan.

'Oh, you've heard about that. Och, I only found out when I nipped back into the shop to ask what tartan it was and when they told me it was the Thistle tartan I must admit I had second thoughts, but it was too late to change it. A few of my friends have enjoyed a wee laugh at my expense over it. Then again, how neutral was that!'
And with that it was taxi time for Humza and a trip across the capital to Bute House.

THE Clan Yousaf gathers at parliament on the morning of the swearing in ceremony. From left: brother-in-law Hassan Khan, father-in-law Andy Lythgoe, Humza, mum Shaaista, dad Muzaffar, and sisters Safa and Faiza.