SNP leadership

Swinney tipped to promote housing to cabinet post

John Swinney
John Swinney: Cabinet reshuffle (pic: Terry Murden / DB Media Services)

John Swinney is tipped to promote housing to Cabinet status as he targets key policy areas in a smaller government team.

Mr Swinney, who is expected to be installed as SNP leader and First Minister next week, will reshuffle and reduce the ministerial team.

Kate Forbes, who decided not to contest the leadershil, has been promised a significant role, possibly deputy First Minister and overseer of government policy or the new housing portfolio. She a potential stand-in for Economy Secretary Mairi McAllan who is due to take maternity leave.

After declaring his candidacy for the leadership on Thursday Mr Swinney said housing was a “big priority”, but Scotland was constrained by cuts imposed by Westminster.

However, he is under pressure from all sides of the housing debate to tackle a failure to hit building targets and restore confidence among investors. At the Scottish Property Federation conference earlier this month, regeneration specialist Chris Stewart said housing minister Paul McLennan had “killed the market”.

Sources say it was the Green party co-leader and former tenants’ rights minister Patrick Harvie whose influence on the SNP was mainly responsible for deterring investors. After Mr Harvie was sacked by Humza Yousaf, Mr McLennan spoke of being able to focus on investment.

Mr Swinney has been told that housing will play a key role in tackling poverty, another of his declared priorities.

Mr Swinney is also under pressure over the independence debate.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, on Friday wrote to Mr Swinney urging him to abolish the minister for independence role created by Mr Yousaf and held by Jamie Hepburn, and abandon plans for a referendum for the duration of his tenure.

This will prove a hot potato for Mr Swinney whose election slogan is “uniting for independence” and he declared his intention to secure separation for Scotland.

Economy Secretary Mairi McAllan, who appeared to play the role of Mr Swinney’s campaign manager, entered the independence debate in a radio interview in which she was asked to comment on an article by former Sunday Times’ editor Andrew Neil who said independence was dead for a generation.

“Andrew Neil? I’m trying to think who exactly that is,” she replied, perhaps betraying her 31 years.

Ms McAllan is likely to be rewarded for her support, though maternity leave opens the door for Kate Forbes to step in. Mr Swinney promised her a senior role and she was the architect of the National Strategy for Economic Transformation in 2022.

She also introduced tech guru Mark Logan as a government adviser on entrepreneurialism.

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

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