John Swinney set to become next SNP leader and First Minister

The Perthshire North MSP expected to run unopposed in the race to replace Humza Yousaf after rival drops out.

John Swinney set to become next SNP leader and First Minister Getty Images

John Swinney looks set to become the next leader of the SNP when nominations close at noon on Monday.

The Perthshire North MSP is expected to run unopposed in the race to replace Humza Yousaf.

Reports of a potential leadership contest began early on Sunday when SNP activist Graeme McCormick said he had secured the 100 nominations from 20 branches needed to run against Swinney.

But later on Sunday, he confirmed he had backed out of the campaign after “lengthy and fruitful” conversations with Swinney.

The former deputy FM had warned that a contest could damage the party’s chances of recovering from a “difficult” period.

It was also initially thought that former finance secretary Kate Forbes would contest the leadership, but Swinney heaped praised on his potential rival, saying she would be offered a “significant” job in his team after she confirmed she would not run against him.

As things stand, Swinney remains the only confirmed candidate and – if that remains the case – he will automatically become leader of the SNP at 12.01pm.

At that point, as leader of the largest group in Holyrood with 63 out of 129 seats, he will seek to become the First Minister.

But will need the support of a majority of MSPs – of which he is two short.

John Swinney looks set to replace Humza Yousaf this week.STV News

With Scottish Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats certain to vote for their own leaders, he will have to rely on the only other major party in Holyrood – the Scottish Greens.

That’s the same party that ultimately led to Yousaf’s resignation after he ended their power-sharing deal, kicking Greens co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater out of government in the process.

But the Greens have made it clear their issue was with Yousaf – and not the wider Scottish Government.

MSPs could vote through Swinney – or reject him – as soon as Tuesday.

If he wins more votes for than against him he should be formally sworn in shortly afterwards.

STV News

He will then take part in a short ceremony at the Court of Session in Edinburgh – taking the oath of office, known as an “official declaration”, and pledging allegiance to the King.

It means his inaugural First Minister’s Questions could be held on Thursday – less than two weeks after Yousaf’s resignation.

Swinney’s looming ascension to Bute House – the official residence of the First Minister – has already prompted anger from opposition parties.

He represents the third FM in just one election cycle.

The 2021 Scottish Parliament election was contested when Nicola Sturgeon was SNP leader.

When she resigned, Yousaf took over and a year later Swinney looks like he will win the SNP leadership unopposed.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has said the SNP “cannot impose another unelected leader on Scotland” and called for a national ballot to be held.

And Alex Cole-Hamilton, the leader of the Scottish Lib Dems, said “we need a Scottish general election now” while the Tories have said they would “welcome” a public vote.

Opposition MSPs also point to SNP politicians accusing Westminster of being anti-democratic for having three leaders after just one election.

Swinney has so far refused calls for an election, saying Holyrood has a fixed-parliament term and that ultimately MSPs decide who the First Minister is, unlike in Westminster where there is no such vote.

How will John Swinney govern as First Minister?

Cole-Hamilton says Swinney has “more baggage than an airport carousel” while Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said the SNP had gone “back to the future”. Scottish Labour described him as “yesterday’s man”.

Swinney has been keen to shed that image.

At his campaign launch in Edinburgh, he signalled that the party under him would return to a more centrist position focusing on “economic growth and social justice”.

That comes after Sturgeon’s deal with the Greens and a number of contentious policies such as gender reforms, the deposit return scheme and higher taxes on middle and higher earners.

He also offered an olive branch to Kate Forbes – considered to be on the right of the party – and has seemingly won over MPs such as Joanna Cherry, who has been critical of the party’s social policies under Sturgeon and Yousaf.

Swinney said Forbes would play a “significant role” in his government.

Later, Forbes said she would not run and offered a full-hearted endorsement of Swinney.

It means Swinney has won support from several different wings of the SNP.

“I want to build on the work of the SNP government to create a modern, diverse, dynamic Scotland that will ensure opportunity for all of her citizens,” he said at his SNP leadership launch on Thursday.

“I want to unite the SNP and unite Scotland for independence.”

John Swinney is an SNP veteran, having served under Alex Salmond and then Nicola Sturgeon.Getty Images

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.”

For opposition parties, Swinney will always be tied to records of Alex Salmond – he was his finance secretary for his whole premiership – and Sturgeon – he was her deputy first minster throughout her entire nine years as leader.

Whose directions he chooses to follow – or none – is a choice he has yet to make.

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code