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Humza Yousaf Resigns as Scotland’s First Minister

Scotland’s first minister, Humza Yousaf, resigned on Monday in the latest setback for his Scottish National Party, which has been engulfed in a slow-burn crisis over a funding scandal that erupted after its popular leader Nicola Sturgeon stepped down last year.

Mr. Yousaf’s departure had looked increasingly inevitable after he gambled last week by ending a power sharing deal with the Scottish Green Party, angering its leaders and leaving him at the head of a minority government without obvious allies. His opponents then pressed for two motions of no confidence, which were expected to take place later this week.

Having explored his options over several fraught days, Mr. Yousaf, who was Scotland’s first Muslim leader, said that he would quit in a speech on Monday at Bute House in Edinburgh, the official residence of the Scottish first minister.

“After spending the weekend reflecting on what is best for my party, for the government and for the country I lead, I have concluded that repairing our relationship across the political divide can only be done with someone else at the helm,” Mr. Yousaf said in a short and at times emotional statement.

He added, “It is my intention to continue as first minister until my successor is elected.”

His resignation came after little more than a year as leader of the S.N.P., which has dominated the country’s politics for more than a decade and which campaigns for Scottish independence.

Mr. Yousaf took over after the surprise resignation of Ms. Sturgeon, a prominent figure in Britain’s politics, who announced her departure in February last year. At the time Mr. Yousaf was seen as the continuity candidate.

But that became less of an asset when Ms. Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, was arrested and later charged in connection with the embezzlement of funds while he was the party’s long-serving chief executive. Ms. Sturgeon was also arrested in the same inquiry but has not been charged.

With the funding scandal looming over the S.N.P., Mr. Yousaf struggled to assert himself as leader, and the crisis coincided with the dimming of prospects for a new referendum on Scottish independence, the party’s main preoccupation. In a 2014 referendum, Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom by 55.3 percent, and polls suggest that just over half of voters continue to reject independence.

The S.N.P.’s troubles have been a bonus for Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, which once dominated Scottish politics but saw its support there collapse in the mid 2010s, amid the growing debate over Scottish independence.

Labour’s recent recovery in Scotland could yield a number of seats there in a general election expected later this year, something that would significantly ease the path of the party’s leader, Keir Starmer, to 10 Downing Street, the official home of Britain’s prime minister.

But the latest blow to the S.N.P. — Mr. Yousaf’s resignation — was to a large extent self-inflicted.

The party’s power sharing agreement with the Greens, struck by Ms. Sturgeon in August 2021, allowed the S.N.P. to retain power after it emerged as the biggest party in that year’s election but failed to win an outright majority.

In recent weeks the Greens had become unhappy after the Scottish government retreated from its pledge to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 75 percent by 2030.

There was also tension between the parties over a decision by the National Health Service in Scotland to pause the prescription of puberty blockers and other hormone treatments for minors. That followed an independent review of gender services in England by Hilary Cass, a pediatrician.

The Greens had planned to consult their members on whether to stay in the coalition, but last week Mr. Yousaf pre-empted that decision by terminating the agreement himself.

He appeared to assume that he could continue to lead a minority government with the tacit support of the Greens, but the peremptory manner in which he ended the deal infuriated the party. When Scotland’s Conservative Party pressed a no-confidence vote for Mr. Yousaf, which had been expected this week, the Greens said they would vote against him.

Labour then demanded a vote of confidence in the Scottish government, presenting two huge hurdles for Mr. Yousaf to surmount.

His failure to secure new support underscored the fractious nature of Scotland’s politics. He could have kept his job had he reached an accommodation with Ash Regan, a former rival who left the S.N.P. to join another pro-independence party called Alba. But Alba is led by Alex Salmond, a former first minister and leader of the S.N.P. who had a spectacular fallout with Ms. Sturgeon, once his protégé.

The prospect of a deal with Alba appeared too much for the progressive wing of the S.N.P. That left some new form of accommodation with the Greens as the clearest option for saving the government and avoiding a premature Scottish election.

But the Greens were in little mood to forgive Mr. Yousaf. After he ended their deal last week Lorna Slater, a co-leader of the Greens, accused the S.N.P. of “an act of cowardice,” adding that Mr. Yousaf could “no longer be trusted.”

On Monday Mr. Yousaf admitted that he had “clearly underestimated the level of hurt and upset,” that he had caused. “For a minority government to be able to govern effectively and efficiently trust when working with the opposition is clearly fundamental,” he said.

He added that he was “not willing to trade my values and principles or do deals with whoever simply for retaining power,” paid an emotional tribute to his family, and noted that politics was sometimes a “brutal business.”

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