Forbes: 'I wasn't put under pressure to stand aside in SNP leadership contest'

Former finance secretary tells STV News her decision to back John Swinney is about 'putting country and party first'.

Kate Forbes says she wasn’t put under pressure to stand aside in the SNP’s leadership contest.

The former finance secretary announced on Thursday she will not run against John Swinney despite being seen by many as his main rival to become the party’s next leader.

Nominations for the position do not close until Monday, but her decision could pave the way for Swinney to replace Humza Yousaf unopposed and save the SNP from another lengthy, public leadership battle.

Forbes narrowly lost out to Yousaf in last year’s contest to replace Nicola Sturgeon and was tipped to run again.

However, she has now given her backing to Swinney, the former deputy first minister, and denied speculation she was put under pressure not to enter the race.

“No, I don’t think that’s right, I can give you a very straight answer – that this was not about pressure to stand or not to stand,” she told STV News.

“This was ultimately about whether or not a contest was in the best interests of the members of this party on the eve of a general election and whether it was in the interests of the people of Scotland, who ultimately want to see their government ensuring they are delivering economic growth, tackling poverty and delivering net zero.

“If this was just about a (Cabinet) job, for example, then I would have entered the leadership contest, to become leader of the SNP. This is about putting country and party first.”

Forbes was speaking after a week of drama at Holyrood, sparked by Yousaf announcing last Thursday that he had terminated the powersharing agreement the SNP had with the Scottish Greens.

John Swinney speaks as he launches his SNP leadership bid on May 2.Getty Images

That decision ultimately brought to an end his 13-month tenure as First Minister.

Yousaf announced his resignation on Monday, saying he would stay on only until a successor is found.

Forbes said: “I listened to John Swinney very carefully and I affirm the things that he wants to do as First Minister and as leader of the party – return the SNP to the mainstream, restore competent, candid government.

“That’s what I offered in the last leadership election. I know it’s what the people of Scotland want and if John Swinney can deliver that, I’m right behind him.

“Over the last year, as John Swinney said this morning, we know that there have been challenges. Within the party we need to restore the courteous discourse and outwith the party we need to rewin the trust of the people – not least on the eve of another general election.

“And that’s precisely why I set out an agenda of reform last year, it’s what I want to see delivered and John Swinney was clear this morning that that’s what he wishes to do.

“My position is quite clear, I want to do what is right by the people of Scotland and the members of the SNP – that has been my only consideration over the course of the last year.

“And in light of what John Swinney said this morning, that has made clear to me that right now we do need an agenda of reform but we also need the unity to deliver it.”

While the Scottish Greens had said they could no longer work with Yousaf after he terminated their powersharing agreement, it is thought the smaller pro-independence party would be able to work with Swinney.

The Greens were unlikely to have been able to work with Forbes because of her more socially conservative views.

But Forbes told STV News political editor Colin Mackay that scrutiny of her own views had not put her off entering the contest.

“Not at all,” she said. “I remind you that I almost won last time, came within a few percentages of winning.

SNP nominations opened at the start of the week and will close on Monday, meaning there is still time for prospective candidates to put their names forward.

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