SNP leadership race: John Swinney announces bid to succeed Humza Yousaf as Scotland’s first minister

SNP leadership race: John Swinney announces bid to succeed Humza Yousaf as Scotland’s first minister
  • PublishedMay 3, 2024

The search is currently on to find a new leader for the SNP and Scotland following Mr Yousaf’s resignation on Monday.

John Swinney has announced his bid to take over from Humza Yousaf as SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister.

The Perthshire North MSP has spent a year on the backbenches after he stepped down as deputy first minister when Nicola Sturgeon resigned in 2023.

Announcing his intention to run for first minister during a visit to Grassmarket Community Project in Edinburgh on Thursday, he said: “I want to build on the work of the SNP government to create a modern, diverse, dynamic Scotland that will ensure opportunities for all of our citizens.

“I want to unite the SNP and unite Scotland for independence.”

Former deputy first minister of Scotland John Swinney speaks during a press conference to announce standing for the SNP leadership at the Grassmarket Community Project in Edinburgh. Picture date: Thursday May 2, 2024.
Image:Mr Swinney in Edinburgh on Thursday. Pic: PA

Mr Swinney accepted that the SNP is “not as cohesive as it needs to be” to achieve its goal of Indyref2.

He said: “That has to change. I could have stood back and hoped others would sort things out, but I care too much about the future of Scotland and the Scottish National Party to walk on by.”

Highlighting how he joined the SNP as a teenager and has served as a senior minister for 16 years, he added: “I believe I have the experience, the skills, and I command the trust and the confidence of people across this country to bring the SNP back together again and get us focused on what we do best – uniting Scotland, delivering for the people and working to create the best future for our country.”

The search is currently on to find a new leader for the SNP and Scotland following Mr Yousaf’s resignation on Monday.

Within hours of his resignation, several senior figures within the SNP voiced their support for Mr Swinney, including the party’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, education secretary Jenny Gilruth, and MPs Pete Wishart, Ian Blackford and Alyn Smith.

Former finance secretary Kate Forbes is expected to give a statement later on Thursday. She is being tipped as a potential frontrunner to join the leadership race.

Mr Swinney said: “We have many talented people leading the work of the Scottish government. I want Kate Forbes to play a significant part in that team.

“She is an intelligent, creative, thoughtful person who has much to contribute to our national life. And if elected, I will make sure that Kate is able to make that contribution.

“And that will be part of a united team that draws together our whole party, which given my deep, deep devotion to the SNP, I think I am best placed to put together.”

Former deputy first minister of Scotland John Swinney speaking to the media outside the Resolution Foundation in Queen Anne's Gate, London, following the announcement that Humza Yousaf will resign as SNP leader and Scotland's First Minister, avoiding having to face a no confidence vote in his leadership. Picture date: Monday April 29, 2024.
Image:John Swinney pictured following Humza Yousaf’s resignation. Pic: PA

Mr Swinney has been an MSP since the Scottish parliament’s inception in 1999, serving North Tayside, and previously representing the same constituency at Westminster in 1997.

The politician, who was also finance secretary under Alex Salmond’s government, is said by his supporters to have the experience needed to lead the country following Mr Yousaf’s departure.

Under Ms Sturgeon, he occupied several ministerial offices, including education secretary, COVID-19 recovery secretary and again in finance – taking over from Ms Forbes during her maternity leave.

During his time as Ms Sturgeon’s deputy, he cemented his reputation as a dogged defender of his boss, as well as an SNP stalwart.

However, he faced two close no-confidence votes in Holyrood, first over the handling of school exams during the pandemic, and his initial refusal to publish legal advice during the inquiry into the botched handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.

Nicola Sturgeon MSP and John Swinney MSP during First Minster's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Picture date: Thursday January 11, 2024.
Image:Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney during FMQs earlier this year. Pic: PA

The former SNP leader – who resigned from that post in 2004 following poor European parliament election results – ruled himself out of the 2023 leadership race to replace Ms Sturgeon, citing that he had to put his young family first.

But he said today: “One of the benefits of stepping back from frontline politics a year ago is that I’ve had the time and the opportunity to see our political situation from a different perspective than before.”

Mr Swinney said the SNP had achieved a “huge amount” for the people of Scotland, highlighting his pride in the Scottish child payment, free university tuition and the “massive expansion” of childcare.

He said SNP policies “lift children from poverty, give them a better start in life and enable them to go to university”.

He added: “Only the SNP stand with the majority of people who want their government to be in the moderate centre-left of Scottish politics.

“That is where I stand. And if elected by my party and by parliament, my goals as first minister will come straight from that centre-left tradition.

“The pursuit of economic growth and social justice. Economic growth not for its own sake, but to support the services and the society we all want to see.

“I will pursue priorities that will make Scotland the best our country can be as a modern, innovative, dynamic nation.”

Humza Yousaf speaks during a press conference at Bute House.
Image:Humza Yousaf announcing his resignation at Bute House. Pic: PA

Mr Swinney said further action must be taken to raise more children out of poverty.

He also said the climate emergency is a “real and present threat to our society” and an approach to net zero must be designed that takes “people and businesses with us”.

Raising the topic of independence, he said: “I’ve believed all of my adult life that Scotland’s future is best served as an independent country. But I recognise that more people need to be convinced of that point before independence can be achieved.

“I want to focus my efforts on reaching out in Scotland with respect and courtesy to address the obstacles in the way of winning the case for independence – to persuade people that Scotland’s future is best served with the powers of independence.”

Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, Mr Yousaf said any suggestion of him being forced out of office to make way for Mr Swinney was “complete and utter rubbish”.

And Mr Swinney said today: “I am no caretaker. I am no interim leader.”

He added that he intends to lead the SNP beyond the next general election and the 2026 Scottish parliament election, stating: “So, my message is crisp and simple – I’m stepping forward to bring the SNP together to deliver economic growth and social justice, to deliver the very best future for everyone in a modern, dynamic, diverse Scotland.

“I want to unite the SNP and unite Scotland for independence. I invite everyone in the SNP and in our country who wants to join me in that journey to do so now.”

Nominations for SNP leader close at noon on Monday 6 May.

Prospective candidates will have to gain the support of 100 members from 20 different SNP branches to qualify for the contest.

Any potential ballot will then open at 12pm on Monday 13 May and will close at noon on Monday 27 May.


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