"A WEEK is a long time in politics” is certainly a quote that stands the test of time. We have gone from the shock resignation of our First Minister and jumped straight into the leadership contest. From days of speculation as to who might stand, the confirmation of nominations, and now on to the contest itself. What a whirlwind it has been, and I am sure it will be for the next few weeks.

I have made no secret of the fact I will be giving all my backing to Humza Yousaf. There has been some comment as to why I might do this, that I made my decision based on his opponents – that is not the case. I want to set out exactly why Humza is the best candidate we have, not only to obtain a referendum but also to ultimately win it.

I will not use this as a compare and contrast, as that is for each member to do. Also, I want to reach those who aren’t SNP members and give insight into the man who may be our first minister.

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Each candidate should be judged accordingly on their own merits, and I want to give insight into the incredible merits Humza has and could bring to the role.

I have got to know Humza since being elected almost two years ago and, much like with any colleague in a workplace, over time you begin to form opinions of them.

Seeing them “behind the curtain” is a whole other experience than judging solely on a political character often portrayed in the media – especially social media.

You naturally align with some and don’t with others; this is something that can be cross-party in the Scottish Parliament.

I have made no secret of an issue I have had in regulating adrenaline in my body. This was particularly bad when I was first elected. I have now, with time and support, managed to ease that and almost eradicate it in some situations.

But, if I go back to my first speech in Parliament (below), I was fresh in, and the Chamber felt like such a surreal place to be. I had a distressing moment – one in which I felt like I had failed everything – and I just wanted to hide, mortified that my body had betrayed me.

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When the cameras were off and the others were gone, Humza was one of the first to comfort me. He was straight over giving words of experience and guidance, playing down the impact on my job as a whole.

That reassurance and automatic reaction to see if I was OK is something I have seen often in him over my time in Parliament. He genuinely cares when the cameras are off, and nobody is keeping count.

Judging Humza’s professional record, his portfolios over the years have been some of the hardest, the most scrutinised and judged – the ones where you just know that regardless of what you put in, you will be the villain in many people’s eyes.

This is a part of politics we as elected representatives accept, and he has shouldered those burdens exceptionally well. For example, as transport minister, working around the clock, I remember the images of him looking like he had hardly slept, due to putting in long shifts when the “Beast of the East” storm hit.

Now he is Health Secretary straight on from a pandemic and still in the midst of its effects, and dealing with threatened strike action which he has managed to steer away from. That to me is the measure of a politician: when you are given the hard jobs, you know this person has proved they have the substance it requires to carry them out, and he does so with quiet compassion.

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I have now been in situations with Humza where we have had the opportunity to meet many diverse people. People from different religions, cultures, various ages, visitors from other countries, cross-party colleagues, those with disabilities, the LBGT community and many more.

There is a unifying nature in him – he has the ability to reach across differences and he is able to connect with others on a human level. If I could list the comments I hear after people get the chance to talk to him, the words that are most common are ones like kind, patient, down to earth, normal and friendly – often they comment on how they felt, leaving with a smile on their face.

If anything, he knows what it’s like to be invalidated and dehumanised by bigotry having grown up his whole life as a minority. This lived experience he takes with him to work, and channels in a positive way to use for good.

He genuinely understands the extent to which equality and inclusion are needed to socially progress. Inequality is not abstract, it exists even though others may not see or experience it; he sees it and gets it. It is a privilege to not have to think about it.

Ultimately, if we truly want our citizens to vote for independence, and if we really want to get over that 50% line, then we need somebody who has ensured that when the time comes, our Scottish voters don’t feel that an independent Scotland isn’t a welcoming place for them. Why would they vote for a smaller version of what we have now?

Humza’s vision for our route to independence shows he is in it to win it. He has the foresight which looks beyond our indy bubble and takes in the bigger picture. That is what I want in a leader: a unifying, compassionate leader who is dedicated to improving Scotland for all, and that is something people will be ultimately voting for.

If we exclude anyone now, we exclude their vote then. You cannot force a person to bury their fear of an abstract idea. I love Humza’s vision for indy, and it’s one that I know is a winner.