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Who is Humza Yousaf? SNP leader confirms his in-laws have been able to leave Gaza

 (Jane Barlow / PA)
(Jane Barlow / PA)

Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf has confirmed his wife Nadia's parents, who were trapped in Gaza, were able to leave the territory through the Rafah crossing on Friday morning.

Elizabeth and Maged El-Nakla, from Dundee, have been named among 92 British nationals permitted to pass through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt.

The couple travelled to Gaza to visit family prior to the conflict erupting and had been trapped there since.

Mr Yousaf’s wife, Nadia El-Nakla, had reported her parents were without clean drinking water and faced “rapidly diminishing supplies”.

Mr Yousaf said on Friday (November 3): "Although we feel a sense of deep personal relief, we are heartbroken at the continued suffering of the people of Gaza.

"We will continue to raise our voices to stop the killing and suffering of the innocent people of Gaza.

"We reiterate our calls for all sides to agree to an immediate ceasefire, the opening of a humanitarian corridor so that significant amounts of aid, including fuel, can flow through to a population that have suffered collective punishment for far too long, and for all hostages to be released.

"Families in Gaza and Israel are suffering after the loss of entirely innocent men, women, and children.

"We pray for them all, and pray that the international community at last focuses on achieving a lasting peace in the region: one that recognises that the rights and lives of Palestinians and Israelis are equal."

The list published overnight on Thursday by the Palestinian Border Authority said those named on it must be “present at 7am in the outdoor halls of the crossing to facilitate their travel”.

And the pair have been released in the same week that the First Minister of Scotland was forced to defend his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon amid growing pressure from opposition leaders over WhatsApp messages sent by Scottish ministers during the pandemic.

Mr Yousaf succeeded Ms Sturgeon as the first minister of Scotland in March 2023.

Facing off against Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross at FMQs in Holyrood, Mr Yousaf hit back at claims that Ms Sturgeon was avoiding scrutiny.

Mr Yousaf also insisted that ministers were fully co-operating with the inquiry, and that he was handing over unredacted messages between himself and Scottish ministers, UK ministers, and even members of the opposition.

It has been a busy couple of weeks for the Scottish leader but what do we know about him?

What is his background?

Mr Yousaf has served as justice secretary, transport minister, and international development minister. He became the first Muslim to be appointed to the Scottish government in 2012.

He broke fresh political ground by becoming Scotland’s first First Minister from an ethnic-minority background.

His father, who is from Pakistan, and his mother, from Kenya, moved to the UK in the 1960s.

At a press conference in February, he said his late grandfather came to Scotland from a small town in Pakistan in 1962 with barely a word of English.

“I don’t imagine in his wildest dreams that his grandson would one day be running to be First Minister of Scotland,” Mr Yousaf added.

He said it “speaks to us as a nation that anyone, regardless of race, can aim for the highest office in our country and not be judged by the colour of their skin”.

Scotland, he said, “should be proud that a grandson of an immigrant can seek to become the next First Minister”.

Mr Yousaf was privately educated at Hutchesons’ Grammar School in Glasgow and he went on to study politics at the University of Glasgow, graduating with an MA in 2007. He undertook a lot of charity work in his youth. After being elected in 2011 as a Glasgow region MSP, he took his oath to the Queen in English and in Urdu.

He did the same when re-elected in 2016, wearing both a kilt and sherwani (a long-sleeved outer coat worn by men in South Asia) to reflect his Scottish and Pakistani heritage.

Council tax freeze

In the closing speech at the party’s annual conference, Mr Yousaf announced a freeze on council tax for residents in Scotland.

He said the freeze was needed to help with “almost everybody in Scotland” left struggling in the “Westminster cost-of-living crisis”.

Addressing the conference crowd, he said that it “feels like too many are struggling, no matter how hard they work”.

Humza added: “I can announce to the people of Scotland that, next year, your council tax will be frozen."

However, it is unclear how money would be allocated to councils as a result.

What’s more, Cosla, the body that represents Scotland’s 32 councils, said it was unaware of the freeze before it was announced during the conference.

Support for refugees in Gaza

Mr Yousaf is also trying to encourage the international community to do more to support civilian men, women, and children who have been caught up in the Middle Eastern conflict.

Humza has spoken about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which has led to the displacement of more than a million people following air strikes from Israel.

The Scottish leader had previously revealed that his wife’s parents, Elizabeth and Maged El-Nakla, were trapped in Gaza after visiting family in the Palestinian territory earlier this month. His wife Nadia’s cousin, who is also in Gaza, has shrapnel injuries.

Taking to social media, Humza shared a video in which he said that Scotland would provide safety and sanctuary for refugees forced to flee the conflict.

Alongside his impassioned message, the first minister wrote: “The people of Gaza are a proud people. Many don't want to leave, and shouldn't have to. But for those displaced, who want to leave, there should be a worldwide refugee scheme. Scotland is willing to be a place of sanctuary and be the first country to take those refugees.”

Scrutiny for Scotland’s NHS performance

While he has pointed to a decade of top ministerial roles, his record running Scotland’s NHS has come under intense scrutiny, with Mr Yousaf facing criticism for long waiting times and for urging the public to “think twice” before calling 999 in September 2021.

Mr Yousaf’s political career began when he became an office manager for the SNP's Bashir Ahmad, the first MSP from an Asian and Muslim background.

Following Mr Ahmad's death in 2009, Mr Yousaf went on to work for other MSPs, including Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.

On the SNP’s fight for independence, Mr Yousaf said he believed in it “with every fibre” of his being.

But he added that, despite being a close ally of Ms Sturgeon, he had some “concerns” about the former first minister’s plan to use the upcoming general election, likely to be called next year, as a de facto second referendum to break away from the rest of the UK.

He said: “I’m not as wedded to it as the first minister.”

Asked when a second referendum might be held, he added: “I’m not going to put a timetable on it. I want independence tomorrow if we can have it, and that goes almost without saying.”