THE SNP has split down the middle after its bitter six-week leadership contest, with Humza Yousaf winning just 52 per cent of the vote.

The Health Secretary failed to get elected on the first round of voting, picking up the support of less than half the members who used their ballots in the three-way race.

He only narrowed defeated Finance Secretary Kate Forbes after picking up a third of the second preference transfer votes from underdog Ash Regan. 

With turnout hitting just 70% among the SNP’s 72,000 members, it means Mr Yousaf becomes first minister with the support of barely of third of his own party members. 

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf to be new First Minister

Scottish Labour stepped up its demand for an early Holyrood election, saying Mr Yousaf had no mandate to govern, having inherited the post from Nicola Sturgeon.

One SNP MSP said the closeness of the result showed large numbers of party members didn’t believe Mr Yousaf was up to the job, and he would struggle.

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The person said: “It can’t by any stretch of the imagination be considered a convincing win. Given the challenges ahead, I think it can only go one way.”

In his victory speech, Mr Yousaf called for the party to unite. 

“Over the last five weeks, we may have been competitors or supporters of different candidates, but from today, we are no longer team Humza, Ash or Kate, we are one team, and we will be the team, we will be the generation that delivers independence for Scotland.”

He said the SNP needed to heal divisions “quickly.”

“We have a job to do and as a party we are at our strongest when we are united, and what unites is our shared goal of delivering independence for our nation.”

The 37-year-old will likely breeze through the confirmatory vote in Holyrood today, becoming Scotland’s youngest first minister, and the first from an ethnic minority background. 

He will be sworn in at the Court of Session in Edinburgh tomorrow, before making his FMQs debut on Thursday.

The Glasgow Pollok MSP takes charge around a week before his 38th birthday. 

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

READ MORE: How Humza Yousaf secured victory in the SNP leadership contest

The result was announced at the BT Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh after the ballot of SNP members closed at noon.

Mr Yousaf said he felt like the "luckiest man in the world".

"To serve my country as First Minister will be the greatest privilege and honour of my life, should parliament choose to elect me as Scotland's next first minister tomorrow," he said. 

"There will be no empty promises or easy soundbites", Mr Yousaf added. 

He vowed to make the cost-of-living crisis and revitalising the NHS his immediate priorities.

The new SNP leader also said he would keep his campaign promises to extend childcare, improve rural housing, and support small businesses, 

Nicola Sturgeon, the outgoing First Minister, took to Twitter to congratulate Mr Yousaf.

"I pay tribute to all 3 candidates for @theSNP leadership for rising to the challenge.

"Most of all I congratulate @HumzaYousaf and wish him every success.

“He will be an outstanding leader & First Minister and I could not be prouder to have him succeed me."

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.

However, yesterday afternoon the party’s ruling council voted unanimously to back the continuation of the Bute House agreement.

READ MORE: Scottish Greens vote to continue with Bute House Agreement with SNP

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.

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.

Mr Yousaf yesterday described both Ms Forbes and Ms Regan as “exceptional talents” and would only say they had “clearly got a role to play, a continued role, in Scottish public life.”

Asked if she would take a post in Mr Yousaf’s cabinet, despite her misgivings over the government’s plans on gender recognition, the deposit return scheme, and the ban on alcohol advertising, Ms Forbes said it would be up to the new first minister. 

“Well, obviously, Humza has won so it's for Humza to appoint his cabinet and I, like any other MSP, look forward to supporting him in any way.”

“I'm still to have conversations about cabinet and about my future role,” she said. “And I'm probably not prepared to go beyond that point. Because this conversation still needs to be had and I've obviously made my views pretty clear over the last five weeks,” she added.

Speaking to The Herald about the result, 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 John Swinney and other big names backing Mr Yousaf, 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.”

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf to ask Rishi Sunak for Indyref2 powers 'right away'

As well as having the support of the bulk of the SNP’s parliamentarians, Mr Yousaf was widely seen as the preferred choice of Nicola Sturgeon, whose top special adviser Liz Lloyd worked on his campaign, and reportedly tried to dissuade 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 hustings that he failed not just at health, but in the transport and justice portfolios as well. 

Besides being the youngest first minister, 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 devolution 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”.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond uses Kate Forbes slogan as he responds to SNP result

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross congratulated Mr Yousaf on his victory.

“We encourage him to govern for all of Scotland and abandon his divisive plans to push independence relentlessly as the self-styled ‘first activist’

“As the main opposition party, we will hold Humza Yousaf to account when he lets the Scottish people down.

“Unfortunately, we have serious concerns about his ability. For the good of Scotland, we hope he does not lurch from failure to failure as he did when he was Nicola Sturgeon’s Health Secretary, Justice Secretary and Transport Minister."

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said that while he questioned Mr Yousaf's mandate, it was "important to reflect on the election of what will be the first first minister from an ethnic minority background.

"Regardless of your politics, this is a significant moment for Scotland.

“But while Scotland faces the twin crises of the cost of living and the NHS emergency, it is clear that the SNP does not have the answers that Scotland needs.

“This chaotic and divided party is out of touch and out of ideas. Humza Yousaf has inherited the SNP’s woeful record, but he has not inherited Nicola Sturgeon’s mandate.

“We need an election now, and Scottish Labour is the change that Scotland needs.”

Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said he would challenge Mr Yousaf in today's Holyrood vote.

“I will be putting myself forward in the vote for first minister," he said. "I believe that Scotland is at a crossroads.

“This leadership contest has shown Humza Yousaf will always prioritise breaking up the UK. My priorities are the cost of the living crisis, the state of the NHS and the climate emergency. That is what the public want to see Scotland’s Parliament focused on at this difficult time.”

Former first minister Alex Salmond urged Mr Yousaf to talk to his defeated rivals.

The Alba leader said both Ms Regan and Ms Forbes fought "brave campaigns against the full force of the SNP establishment, and given that together they received over half the votes, the new leader would do well to listen to what they had to say in the campaign."

The ex-SNP chief also called on the soon to be first minister to convene an independence convention.

"It is now his responsibility to reunite the movement," Mr Salmond said. "Continuity won't cut it. It's time to hold Westminster's feet to the fire."