Late talks

Swinney relief as challenger drops rival leader bid

Graeme McCormick gathered enough support to challenge John Swinney

A long-time critic of the SNP’s leadership has agreed to drop his plan to stand against John Swinney, avoiding a potentially embarrassing election campaign.

Graeme McCormick, a retired conveyancing solicitor from Loch Lomond, secured enough signatures to lodge a rival bid against Mr Swinney but he is now expected to be ushered into office uncontested this week.

Mr McCormick was due to submit the required papers to SNP headquarters before Monday’s noon deadline, triggering an election process.

But after talks with Mr Swinney he has agreed to support Mr Swinney.

He said they “explored new thinking” on a number of topics which would “inspire activists both within the SNP and wider independence movement in the following weeks and months”.

He added: “This is a fresh start for our members and our politicians, and I’m sure that John’s determination to deliver independence will be rewarded at the forthcoming general election.

“I have therefore concluded that I shall not proceed with my nomination for party leader but instead support John Swinney’s nomination for party leader and first minister of Scotland.”

His attempt to challenge Mr Swinney angered many party members, including senior figures who are keen to resolve the leadership quickly in order to restore order.

Speaking earlier on Sunday, Pete Wishart, the MP for Perth and North Perthshire who attended the Mr Swinney’s launch event on Friday, said: “I really hope those behind this seriously think about the consequences of a challenge that could never win.”

Mr Swinney said it would be better for the party if there is no contest.

“Every day we spend on an internal contest which I think we all probably know the outcome of, we delay the ability of the SNP to start its rebuilding,” he said.

Mr McCormick has long been a thorn in the side of the leadership. Last year stood for the post of SNP president against the former cabinet secretary Mike Russell.

At last June’s special independence convention in Dundee he said that if the SNP achieved a majority at the general election, they should withdraw from Westminster, set up a provisional government in Edinburgh and dissolve the union. He attacked Mr Yousaf’s government as “flatulence in a trance”.

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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