FM on spot

Swinney defends track record in feisty first FMQs

John Swinney at first FMQs: traumatic few weeks

John Swinney faced a volley of criticism over his personal record in government as he took First Minister’s Questions in his new role for the first time.

Tory leader Douglas Ross accused him of failing to deliver on teachers’ job numbers that he had promised in an SNP manifesto, asking the same question four times but without getting the ‘yes or no’ answer he demanded.

He said commitments on teacher numbers were given in “good faith” and he would work with councils to deliver them.

He told the chamber the public finances are under pressure due to inflation and the persistence of austerity measures from the Westminster government.

“I have to live in the real world of the public finances available to me,” Mr Swinney added, insisting that teacher numbers rose when he was education secretary.

Labour leader Anas Sarwar also questioned the First Minister’s record on education and said: “After being at the heart of every SNP failure for the past 17 years, why does John Swinney think Scotland should accept more of the same?”

Mr Swinney responded: “I’ve got good news for Anas Sarwar. The fresh leadership has just arrived – and I’m here to deliver it.”

SNP member Michelle Thomson asked what support the government was providing to women in enterprise. Mr Swinney said it was committed to implementing the Pathways report on tackling the barriers female entrepreneurs face. He said £1.5m had been allocated this year to support this work in addition to £1.3m already given.

Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie took issue with the appointment of Kate Forbes as Deputy First Minister and asked if her views and the actions of the First Minister in sacking “progressive” ministers meant the government was returning to the values of the 1950s.

Patrick Harvie at FMQs 9.5.24
Patrick Harvie questioned the government’s values

Mr Swinney said that as Finance Secretary Ms Forbes delivered progressive taxation. “When I say that I want to be the first minister for everyone in Scotland I deeply mean that,” he said.

“I want to lead a modern, dynamic and diverse Scotland. A place for everybody.”

He admitted that the last two weeks “have been frankly traumatic for my party. I accept that. And they have had everything to do with running the country.

“I am now here to lead this government and to lead it with the firmness of direction it needs to address the problems facing the country and to achieve our objectives.”

The session closed with a reminder of Mr Swinney’s call for greater co-operation among parliamentarians.

It followed a final question from Douglas Lumsden, the Tory MSP and former co-leader of Aberdeen City Council, who asked: “The extremist Greens have been ditched from government so can the First Minister tell me that the damaging policy of presumption against new oil and gas will also be ditched?”

Douglas Lumsden looking bemused at Mr Swinney’s response to his question

The First minster responded by challenging the tone adopted by Mr Lumsden. “I don’t think Mr Lumsden’s language is appropriate,” he said, adding that public expected MSPs to conduct their business with courtesy.

He avoided a direct answer to the question, saying only that: “I want to ensure that we have a just transition for the oil and gas sector.

“We have a climate crisis with us. We have to take careful and appropriate steps to respond to that climate crisis and that must involve a just transition for the oil and gas sector and that is what the government will deliver.”

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