SNP race

Swinney offers role to Forbes as she drops leader bid

John Swinney: ‘Kate Forbes has much to contribute’ (pic: Terry Murden / DB Media Services)

John Swinney today declared his candidacy for the SNP leadership and said he would offer former Finance Secretary Kate Forbes a “significant” role in his government.

His proposal came as Ms Forbes confirmed she would not stand against him, leaving Mr Swinney to be confirmed as leader by next week without the need for an election campaign.

Ms Forbes said she was greatly heartened by Mr Swinney’s drive to restore a sense of courtesy and dignity to the “way we conduct ourselves as a party and as a Parliament”.

She added: “I have also had the opportunity to speak directly with him to discuss the future of our party and our country. Those discussions on the future of the SNP and our vision for Scotland were both frank and constructive.

“What emerged was that we share a powerful common purpose for the country.

“Ultimately, I have concluded that the best way to deliver the urgent change Scotland needs is to join with John Swinney and advocate for that reform agenda within the Scottish government.

“I can therefore today announce that I will not be seeking nomination as the next SNP leader.”

Kate Forbes
Kate Forbes has decided against standing for the leadership

Mr Swinney, who stood down as party leader 20 years ago, told a gathering of current ministers and party supporters in Edinburgh that he wanted to rebuild the party, and described Ms Forbes as as an “intelligent, creative and thoughtful person who has much to contribute”.

Among those in the audience were the Economy Secretary Mairi McAllan, who introduced him, Culture Secretary Angus Robertson, Transport Secretary Fiona Hyslop and the independence minister Jamie Hepburn. MPs Pete Wishart and Alison Thewlis were also in attendance.

Just three days after Humza Yousaf resigned as leader and First Minister following a bungled sacking of his Green party colleagues, Mr Swinney said the party is “not as cohesive as it needs to be. That has to change.”

Explaining his decision to stand, he added: “I could have stood back and let others sort it out, but I care too much to walk on by.”

He said that if chosen as the next leader he intends to be in office for the long term.

“I am no caretaker. I am no interim leader,” he declared, saying he will fight the General Election and the 2026 Scottish elections, “two contests which I intend to win”.

John Swinney ‘I am no caretaker’ (pic: Terry Murden / DB Media Services)

He added: “Once I have built a unified team the opposition parties had better watch out.”

He said that calling an election now to let the public decide on who should be First Minister was a “red herring” as it is a fixed term parliament which envisages there would be changes of personnel.

Describing himself as “centre left”, he said his goal would be to “pursue economic growth and social justice, but not economic growth for its own sake”. He said growth must support better public services and tackle poverty, repeating the message of Mr Yousaf.

“The government I aspire to lead will do all in its powers to eradicate child poverty,” he said, describing poverty as a “curse”.

He said the government must design policy on net zero “that takes people with us”, regarded as a pointed criticism of the full-on agenda that has alienated sections of the public and business, such as the oil and gas sector.

On housing, he echoed the message of Mr Yousaf and other ministers who blamed Westminster for forcing cuts to the budget.

“Housing is a big priority, but we have to face up to harsh realities,” he said.

He said the public want to see their lives getting better and he called for an end to the “nasty” tone of politics, particularly in the chamber, saying MSPs needed to show each other more courtesy.

Opposition pile on early pressure

At First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said electing John Swinney would be the SNP going “back to the future”, and that he is “a continuity candidate pushing more of the same nationalist obsession that has damaged Scotland for more than a decade”.

He called John Swinney “Nicola Sturgeon’s human shield” who “masterminded the deal with the extreme Greens”. He criticised John Swinney’s record in government, from the Named Persons law to the Ferguson Marine ferry contracts and “etting our schools spiral down international league tables.”

He added: “For 16 out of 17 years of SNP Government, John Swinney sat at the cabinet table. His fingerprints are all over their most toxic policies. They think John Swinney is a safe pair of hands – but he dropped the ball dozens of times.

“He was the finance secretary who oversaw the disastrous ferries deal – but he’s supposed to steady the ship.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “John Swinney was the Finance Minister who broke the public finances, the worst Education Secretary in the history of the Scottish Parliament, the Deputy First Minister who deleted evidence meant for the Covid Inquiry and the man who has been at the heart of this incompetent SNP Government for the past seventeen years.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “This is a candidate with more baggage than an airport carousel.

“For more than two decades, John Swinney has been complicit in every moment of the SNP’s division, neglect and failure.”

David Lonsdale
David Lonsdale: need for coherence (pic: Terry Murden)

Call for more support

Visits to Scottish retail stores fell for a seventh consecutive month in April, said David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium who called for greater coherence in policy towards the sector.

The dip was more pronounced than in March due to Easter falling early this year, which brought forward foot-traffic to shops. The decline was felt across all retail destinations, albeit Edinburgh still turned in a positive performance.

“This comes at a tricky time for many stores with business rates bills landing firmly on doorsteps,” said Mr Lonsdale.

“Four and a half thousand Scottish shops have just seen an extra £31 million added to their annual rates bills, a cause for concern given the weakness in revenues from shoppers. At the same time the regulatory burden facing retailers continues to swell and grocers are facing the threat of a business rate surtax to help plug a gap in the devolved government’s finances.

“Hopefully, the next First Minister will prioritise economic growth and bring a more coherent approach to revitalising our high streets and retail destinations. 

“Central to this should be a plan to ease the regulatory burden, scrap the mooted public health surtax on grocers, and finally deliver on the pledge to restore business rates parity with England for medium-sized and larger commercial premises. The lack of rates parity costs Scotland’s retailers £9 million a year, cash which isn’t available for improvements to stores or customer service.”

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