New leader

Swinney admits being divisive, as focus turns to Forbes

John Swinney: call for unity

John Swinney has admitted to being part of the divisiveness in Scottish politics as he was confirmed as SNP leader and called for other parties to work with him.

Mr Swinney, 60, who is expected to become First Minister on Tuesday, also indicated that there would be no new deal with the Green Party, but will seek a greater consensus across the chamber.

Already, however, there indications of continuing division with calls for him to abandon the focus on independence, while the Greens warned that they will only offer their support on strict conditions.

Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “The next Scottish Government will face an important choice. Will they offer a progressive vision for Scotland’s future, or will they retreat toward the tepid middle ground, which would force them to rely on the Tories and other pro-union parties?

“There are a lot of important policies already on their way to delivery as a result of the Bute House Agreement, including better rights for tenants and rent controls, transforming the way we heat our homes and a watertight ban on conversion therapy. 

“We remain utterly committed to these policies and will oppose any move away from them or steps to dilute them.”

Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens
Partrick Harvie: we will oppose the SNP if it rejects Green party priorities (pic: Terry Murden)

Mr Swinney is expected to announce his first Cabinet by the middle of the week, with most attention focused on the role he has promised former Finance Secretary Kate Forbes.

She has been tipped to become deputy First Minister, Cabinet Secretary for a bumped up Housing department, or return to her previous role. There has been some expression of concern that Mr Swinney may have ceded too much authority to Ms Forbes as a condition for her not standing against him.

While replacing Shona Robison may signal disapproval of the December Budget, it may be significant that the current Finance Secretary was not present today or at last week’s event.

Ministers who did attend today’s address included Angela Constance, Màiri McAllan, Neil Gray, Shirley-Anne Somerville and Jamie Hepburn.

Mr Swinney was the only nomination for party leader after persuading a potential rival not to stand. Veteran SNP activist Graeme McCormick had gathered the required number of signatures to mount a challenge. He withdrew following talks with Mr Swinney on Sunday evening.

In an acceptance speech in Glasgow, the new leader called for a more constructive approach to politics but acknowledged that he had contributed to hostilities in the parliament. He has been rebuked on numerous times by the presiding officer after aggressive outbursts during debates.

“I’ve obviously contributed to that [the divisiveness], of course, I have,” he told reporters, adding that politics is in “the worst state I’ve ever seen”. He said “I’m here to do something about that.”

Mr Swinney, who led the SNP between 2000 and 2004, said he envisaged a country where “people have good jobs, the climate is protected, the vulnerable are lifted up and opportunity is available for all”.

Kate Forbes delivering Scottish budget
Kate Forbes will get a high profile role

He has pledged to continue putting the case for independence but again he called for a reasoned approach from both sides of the argument.

“I will always seek, with respect and courtesy, to persuade people of the case for independence. All I ask of those that oppose that vision, is that they also act with the same courtesy and respect,” he said.

“That means independence is not a reason for them to refuse to work with us to build the economy, support jobs and improve the health service.”

He said he did not intend to reinstate the power-sharing Bute House Agreement with the Scottish Greens. The botched termination of the deal led to Humza Yousaf’s resignation.

Mr Swinney said his predecessor had “conducted himself throughout this year in office “with grace and with dignity”.

Business leaders representing tourism, retail and the broader spectrum of industry predictably welcomed his commitment to economic growth.

Some have also noted that in his leadership launch speech last Thursday and today’s address he has already blamed Westminster for limiting the scope of his government.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “We urge him to govern for all of Scotland by abandoning his relentless push for independence – but, judging by his leadership launch slogan, that looks a forlorn hope.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “John Swinney’s coronation is entirely about managing the SNP rather than running our country and delivering for Scotland.

“At a time when Scotland is crying out for change, the SNP is offering more of the same.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “It’s hardly a good look for senior SNP parliamentarians to have to beg a party activist to step aside and allow a coronation because of the expense of a leadership election.

“John Swinney will now take the top role without any discussion of his preferred policies at all aside from breaking up the UK.”

SNP slips in polls

The change of leader comes as a new poll shows the SNP will retain just 15 of its current 43 seats at the forthcoming general election, while Labour would increase its representation from just two to 28.

The poll, by Norstat – formerly known as Panelbase – found that while support for independence remains largely unchanged, Labour is set to overtake the SNP at both Westminster and Holyrood, bringing an end to the SNP’s run of four consecutive election victories.

The SNP vote share in a Westminster election would fall to its lowest level since the 2014 independence referendum.

The poll puts SNP on 29% of the vote – a fall of three points in a month, while Labour’s share increased by two points to 34%.

The Scottish Conservatives, whose vote share remained at 16% in the poll, would add three seats to return nine MPs – while the Liberal Democrats, on 8%, would boost their yield by one to five MPs.

Support for independence remains evenly balanced, with 48% in favour of Scotland leaving the UK and 52% backing the Union.

Voting intentions at Holyrood show the SNP remains a point ahead of Labour in the constituency vote at 34%.

The Conservatives would pick up 14% of the vote, the Lib Dems 9% and the Greens 5% – with the remaining 5% to other parties.

But Scottish Labour has edged a point ahead of the SNP on the more proportional regional list vote with the nationalists’ return of 27%.

The Tories would win 17% of regional votes, the Greens 9%, Lib Dems 8%, Reform UK 6% and Alex Salmond’s Alba Party 4%.

Comment: Independence hiding in the shadows as Swinney guns for unity


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