HUMZA Yousaf‘s efforts to heal his divided party were in disarray last night after Kate Forbes rebuffed his plea to accept a major demotion and quit the government.

The new First Minister urged his defeated rival to move from Finance Secretary to the Rural Affairs brief in cabinet, which her supporters described as an “insult.”

Just hours earlier, after being confirmed as Scotland’s sixth first minister in a Holyrood vote, Mr Yousaf had insisted that he wanted Ms Forbes in his government.

He told journalists: “I have said right throughout this campaign that Kate is exceptionally talented and of course, I’d want her to be part of my government.”

He had also hugged Ms Forbes in a public display of unity in the parliament chamber.

A government source said Ms Forbes was offered Rural Affairs because her conservative views on gender reform and abortion ruled her out of other portfolios, such as health.

Mr Yousaf also wanted a finance secretary who was absolutely “on the same page” as him, and the leadership campaign had shown that Ms Forbes was not.

The Herald:

Former cabinet secretary Alex Neil, who backed Ms Forbes in the leadership contest, said the offer of Rural Affairs was an "insult and not a real effort to unite" and called it a “poor start" for Mr Yousaf’s fledgling administration

One SNP MSP said they were disappointed at the development, which they put down to Ms Forbes seeing the Rural Affairs brief as a demotion.

They told the Herald: “I’m surprised, and I think a lot of other people will be as well. To be honest, it doesn’t look good.

“We were all hoping the ructions of the leadership contest were behind us, and that we could get everyone together again.

“I’m surprised and disappointed. I just want things to get operational again. The election went on an awful long time, and now this could keep the arguments going.”

READ MORE: Kate Forbes quits Scottish Government

Another source close to Ms Forbes said the job "might have limited her ability to operate with integrity and intent under collective responsibility" given the proximity of the Scottish Greens to the brief.

Mr Yousaf only narrowly defeated Ms Forbes in the SNP leadership, with 48 per cent of party members preferring the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP to him.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf to become Scotland's sixth First Minister

Following his victory on Monday, he made party unity a priority.

"We are no longer team Humza, Ash or Kate, we are one team,” he promised.

"Where there are divisions to heal we must do so and do so quickly because 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."

Ms Forbes had been on maternity leave from her role as finance secretary since last July, but was back in Holyrood yesterday to vote for Mr Yousaf to become First Minister.

Taking to Twitter after she turned down the cabinet job, she said she had been "delighted to vote for Humza Yousaf to be First Minister today."

She added: "He has my full support, as he governs well and furthers the case for independence. I have full confidence he will appoint a talented Cabinet and Ministerial team, able to meet the challenges facing the country."

Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy said Mr Yousaf had “poured petrol on the SNP civil war” on his first day in the job.

“Kate Forbes’ furious snub to his offer of a cabinet demotion shows his mission to reunite their feuding party is doomed to failure.”

READ MORE: Shona Robison becomes Deputy First Minister

Shortly after being confirmed as FM, Mr Yousaf announced Shona Robison would be his Deputy First Minister.

The former social justice minister was a key member of Mr Yousaf’s victorious campaign in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon and was one of the most vocal critics of Ms Forbes.

She was also responsible for driving the Gender Recognition Reform Bill through parliament.

It is not clear if she will have a Cabinet portfolio alongside her Deputy First Minister role. She said that was still to be finalised.

Ms Robison and Broughty Ferry-based Mr Yousaf are close, with the MSP for Dundee City East a former employer of the First Minister’s wife, Dundee City Councillor Nadia El-Nakla.

Mr Yousaf and Ms Robison are expected to name the rest of the cabinet today, with MSPs conforming the positions tomorrow.

Mr Yousaf also had his first conversation with Rishi Sunak in his new post last night. 

He had said in advance that he would raise the Scottish Government’s long-standing demand for the power to hold a second independence referendum and confirmed it in a tweet shortly after 630pm.

He wrote: “Just spoken with PM Rishi Sunak - we had a constructive discussion on a range of issues, including helping people through the cost of living crisis.

“I also made clear that I expect the democratic wishes of Scotland's people and Parliament to be respected by the UK Government.”

Mr Sunak said he had congratulated Mr Yousaf on becoming First Minister, but omitted any mention of the constitutional question, which he considers settled by the No vote of 2014.

He said: “I’m looking forward to working with him to deliver on the priorities that matter most to people across Scotland - from cutting NHS waiting lists to growing our economy.”

The SNP leader will be formally sworn in as First Minister at the Court of Session in Edinburgh today.

The 37-year-old is the youngest holder of the post and the first from an ethnic minority background.

READ MORE: SNP told its courting 'disaster' if it dismisses gender bill concerns

In his victory speech in parliament yesterday, Mr Yousaf said he would always stand up for social justice. He choked up as he spoke about life in Scotland following the attack on the Twin Towers.

"The years after 9/11 were not easy for Muslims growing up in Scotland or indeed, across the UK. I've lost count of how many times my identity, my loyalty to Scotland, the only country I have ever and will ever call home, has been questioned over the years.

"There was a time not all that long ago when I felt I simply did not belong here in Scotland.

"To go from there to now leading the government as Scotland's sixth First Minister, I hope sends a strong message to every single person out there who feels that they don't belong.

"No matter what anyone says, no matter who you are, whether Scotland has been your home for a day or for 10 generations. No matter your ethnicity, no matter your gender. No matter your religion, no matter your sexual orientation, your transgender identity or disability. This is your home.

"Do not let anyone ever tell you that you are not good enough. Do not let anyone ever tell you that you do not belong.

"And as First Minister, I will always fight for your rights and where possible, I will do everything I can to advance them."

The First Minister said he would set out more detailed policies in the first week after the Easter recess, and that he would continue to "argue tirelessly for independence."