John Swinney bids to be first minister with Kate Forbes' backing

The former deputy FM is the only person to go for the top job after potential rival Kate Forbes rules herself out.

  • John Swinney launches bid to be SNP leader and Scotland’s next first minister
  • Kate Forbes rules herself out of the race and endorses Swinney
  • Swinney pledges to be a unity candidate and says Forbes would be a ‘key’ part of his team
  • The former deputy first minister was a close ally of Nicola Sturgeon and was previously SNP leader in the early 2000s
  • The deadline for SNP leadership candidates is Monday but it’s considered unlikely that anyone else will put themselves forward
  • It comes after Humza Yousaf announced his resignation as First Minister on Monday ahead of no-confidence votes

John Swinney has launched his bid to replace Humza Yousaf as SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland.

The former deputy first minister and veteran SNP MSP delivered the news during a press conference at Edinburgh’s Grassmarket Community Project.

Pitching himself as a unity candidate, he pledged to bring together his party and the country together, admitting the SNP is “not as cohesive as it should be”.

Swinney said Kate Forbes – who has ruled herself out as a candidate – would be brought in as a “key member” of his team.

He said he would not be a “caretaker or interim” first minister and would lead his party through the next Westminster and Holyrood elections.

Yousaf announced his resignation as SNP leader and First Minister on Monday ahead of no-confidence votes for him and his government.


Former deputy first minister John Swinney has pledged to be a unity candidate and said Kate Forbes, who is considering her own bid, would be brought in as a ‘key member’ of his team. It comes as Swinney has launched his bid to replace Humza Yousaf as SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland. The former deputy first minister and veteran SNP MSP delivered the news during a press conference at Edinburgh’s Grassmarket Community Project. Read more on the STV News website. #johnswinney #kateforbes #candidate #snp #firstminister #humzayousaf #resignantion #politics #scottishpolitics #scotland

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Swinney said it was “clear” change was needed within his party and government, adding he would focus on economic growth and social justice.

“One of the benefits of stepping back from front-line politics a year ago is that I’ve had the time and the opportunity to see our political situation from a different perspective than before,” Swinney said.

“There is a huge amount that the SNP has achieved on behalf of the people of Scotland and much about which we should feel very very proud. The Scottish child payment, free university tuition, the massive expansion of childcare and much much more.

“SNP policies transform lives, they lift children from poverty, give them a better start in life and enable them to go to university.

“Looking across these islands with a UK election looming the SNP alone stands up for ordinary people, for workers, for families.”

He added: “Only the SNP stand where the majority of people want their government to be, in the moderate centre left of Scottish politics.

“That is where I stand and if elected by my party and by parliament my goals as first minister will come straight from that centre-left tradition – the pursuit of economic growth and social justice.”

He said that he will pursue priorities that will make Scotland “the best our country can be” as a modern, innovative, dynamic nation.”

He is the only person to declare a bid for the top job so far.

Forbes, who was narrowly beaten by Yousaf in last year’s leadership contest, put an end to speculation on Thursday afternoon after confirming she would not run for the SNP leadership.

It means Swinney could become leader of the party unopposed and if voted through by Parliament, be first minister by the end of next week.

Forbes and Swinney held private talks on Tuesday.

He has already received a wave of support from key party figures including SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, health secretary Neil Gray and education secretary Jenny Gilruth.

The veteran SNP MSP ruled himself out of the 2023 leadership race saying he had to put his young family first.

STV News understands that senior SNP figures had sought to persuade Swinney to run in the leadership contest ahead of Yousaf’s decision to stand down.

Who is John Swinney?

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Swinney holds the record for Scotland’s longest-serving deputy first minister when he held the post under Nicola Sturgeon for nine years.

The veteran politician has been an MSP since the Scottish Parliament opened in 1999 and is considered by many in his party to be pragmatic and a safe pair of hands.

If he becomes leader, it wouldn’t be for the first time.

In September 2000, he took over as leader following the first departure of Alex Salmond, having served as his deputy for two years previously.

His tenure would not be a happy one though.

The party’s fortunes would sink, returning just five MPs at the 2001 Westminster election and 22 MSPs in the 2003 Holyrood vote.

After seeing off an attempt to oust him by a party activist, Swinney stepped down voluntarily after a poor showing at the 2004 European elections.

But that was not the end of his political story and he was brought back by Salmond to serve as finance secretary when the SNP took power in 2007.

He served in the role for the entirety of Salmond’s tenure, before being appointed deputy first minister by Nicola Sturgeon when she took over.

Over the following nine years, the Perthshire North MSP occupied several ministerial offices, including education secretary, Covid-19 recovery secretary and again in finance – taking over from Forbes during her maternity leave.

During his time as Sturgeon’s deputy, he cemented his reputation as a dogged defender of his boss, as well as an SNP stalwart.

But it was not without its challenges, as he faced two close no-confidence votes in Holyrood – first over the handling of school exams during the pandemic, and his initial refusal to publish legal advice during the inquiry into the botched handling of harassment complaints against Salmond.

The election of Humza Yousaf as First Minister saw Swinney call time on his career in Cabinet, but the urging of colleagues may be enough to see him seek the top job.

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