HUMZA Yousaf is to be Scotland’s first ethnic minority first minister after being elected leader of the SNP.

The 37-year-old Health Secretary will also be the youngest ever holder of the office.

The self-styled “continuity candidate” narrowly beat his main rival, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, after failing to win outright on first preferences votes. 

He was carried over the line by transfer votes after third placed Ash Regan was eliminated.

He won by 52.1 to 47.9 per cent.

The Glasgow Pollok MSP is expected to start organising his new cabinet later today.

Holyrood is due to vote tomorrow on whether to confirm him as First Minister, however it is essentially a formality.

Mr Yousaf’s victory means the SNP has avoided the immediate crisis which a win for Ms Forbes could have triggered because of her socially conservative views.

The Scottish Greens, the SNP’s partners in government, had threatened to walk out if Ms Forbes was elected, given her opposition to gender reforms and same sex marriage.

Some SNP cabinet ministers had said they might feel unable to serve in a Forbes cabinet, while SNP deputy Westminster leader Mhairi Black warned the party could split.

However Mr Yousaf could present the party with a longer term problem, as he has said he wants to continue the policies of Nicola Sturgeon, many of which have fallen flat.

He was the only one of the three candidates in the leadership race to champion Holyrood’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which has been vetoed by the UK Government over fears it would clash with UK-wide equality law.

With the mid-April deadline to launch a judicial review fast approaching, Mr Yousaf now faces a key early decision on whether to challenge that veto in court.

He also faces a tricky choice on whether to offer Ms Forbes a place in his cabinet.

The Skye MSP won ??? per cent of first preference votes, indicating she has the support of a significant section of the SNP’s grassroots.

But the most obvious option - putting her into health when he leaves it - would put her close to ethically divisive issues such as assisted dying, conversion therapy and abortion clinic buffer zones, where her faith could become an issue.

That could alienate the Scottish Greens as well as many of Mr Yosauf’s other colleagues. 

Mr Yousaf had been backed by the bulk of the SNP’s parliamentarians, including deputy first minister John Swinney and other members of the cabinet.

He was widely seen as the preferred choice of Nicola Sturgeon, whose top special adviser Liz Lloyd worked on his campaign, and reportedly tried to dissaude Ms Forbes from standing, a claim Ms Lloyd denies.

Mr Yousaf was also the private choice of Unionist MSPs, who see him as glib and ill-disciplined, and closely associated with a series of failures in government, notably on the NHS.

His opponents will now make hay with Ms Forbes’s damning assessment of him in a TV gustings that he failed not just at health, but in the transport and justice portfolios as well. 

After a confirmatory vote tomorrow at Holyrood, Mr Yousaf will be sworn in as first minister at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, before making his FMQs debut in Thursday.

He will take charge around a week before his 38th birthday. 

Labour’s Jack McConnell was 41 when he took on the role in late 2001.

Besides being the youngest first minster, Mr Yousaf is the first from a new generation of SNP politicians.

All the previous first ministers were '99ers, elected to  Holyrood at the outset of deviolution in 1999.

Mr Yousaf was elected in 2011 and has been a minister since 2012.

Ms Sturgeon, announced she was resigning after more than eight years in the post in mid-February, triggering an extraordinary period of upheaval for the SNP.

Her referendum plans stymied by Westminster and the UK Supreme Court, she admitted she had become divisive and a potential obstacle to the party achieving independence .

Her exit led to feuding between the party’s politicians, a bruising series of hustings in which Ms Forbes and Mr Yousaf in particular traded blows, and allegations of dirty tricks.

The party’s ruling body, its national executive committee, repeatedly mishandled the race, trying to ban the media from hustings and withholding membership numbers.

In both cases it was forced into a humiliating climbdown after pressure from the candidates.

The release of the membership numbers showed SNP HQ had misled the media about a 30,000 drop since the end of 2021 - a decline the party had vehemently denied.

It led to the resignation of the SNP’s respected media chief at Holyrood, Murray Foote, followed by Ms Sturgeon’s husband, the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.

SNP president Michael Russell, who was reluctantly drafted in to steady the ship, admitted the party was in a “tremendous mess”.

Mr Yousaf's campaign manager, Neil Gray told The Herald: "I think we've won because we ran a positive campaign that has engaged our members, that has maintained our progressive values based on social justice and social progress.

"And because Humza has grown through this campaign, and I think, for a lot of people, for many people, most people, has been seen as a first minister in waiting. 

"And I've been incredibly proud to be part of that campaign and to be as close as I have over these last few weeks to watch him on that journey.

"And you know, I'll be incredibly proud to sit with him and vote for him as our next first minister."

Ms Forbes said: "I think that SNP members had a real choice between candidates. I was clear and upfront about what I offered, and they have obviously chosen a more continuity-based candidate.

“That's the nature of democracy. I still stand by my campaign and my campaign messaging.”

Asked if the membership had taken their cue from Mr Swinney and other big names backing Mr Yousaf and gone with the flow, Ms Forbes said: “I think SNP members are a lot more intelligent than just supporting who they're told to support. It means that they wanted that candidate. 

“I was plunged into the whole contest, having been singing nursery rhymes a matter of days beforehand.

"So it was quite a shock to the system. 

“I think it was inevitable in a short contest that there would be some challenging moments, and you live and learn.”

Asked if she might take a second run at the job if there was vacancy, she said: “No. No.

“I have used this contest to make my case. 

“We’ll see what happens at that point [a vacancy].

"But I think it's very difficult to predict where I'll be and where everyone else will be. And by that point, we may have a bigger pool of people that are going for it.

"But I think this, for me, is probably the one opportunity.”