FMQs: John Swinney unites Holyrood in laughter at First Minister's Questions as Patrick Harvie aims for Kate Forbes

Patrick Harvie tore into the new Deputy First Minister as John Swinney managed to unite MSPs in laughter at his first FMQs.

John Swinney’s first FMQs as First Minister threatened to be a bore until a one-liner from the self-confessed change candidate united the entire chamber as he had promised - in hysterical laughter.

Mr Swinney has been here before, deputising for Nicola Sturgeon. But this was now all about him.

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He had called for a new, more grown-up politics and there was little of the shouting and barracking he is used to in exchanges with Douglas Ross, except the odd wry smile. Mr Swinney struggled to give a straight answer to the Tory leader’s basic question over whether a pledge made by Mr Swinney after the 2021 Holyrood election to increase the number of teachers in Scotland by 3,500, was still possible.

John Swinney with his deputy Kate Forbes next to him at his first FMQS (Photo by Lesley Martin/PA Wire)John Swinney with his deputy Kate Forbes next to him at his first FMQS (Photo by Lesley Martin/PA Wire)
John Swinney with his deputy Kate Forbes next to him at his first FMQS (Photo by Lesley Martin/PA Wire)

The FM insisted he was being “absolutely clear” with the people of Scotland.

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Scottish News LIVE: John Swinney faces his first First Minister's Questions

He told MSPs that the pledge had “been given in good faith to strengthen the provision of education in Scotland”.

Mr Swinney added: “We face very significant financial pressures in our public finances. The perspective on the public finances has deteriorated because of the effect of austerity, the cuts that have been made in public expenditure and the very significant inflation that we have had to wrestle with – which has resulted, for example, in teachers in Scotland becoming the best paid in the United Kingdom as a consequence of our decisions.

Kate Forbes came under pressure at FMQS (Photo by Lesley Martin/PA Wire)Kate Forbes came under pressure at FMQS (Photo by Lesley Martin/PA Wire)
Kate Forbes came under pressure at FMQS (Photo by Lesley Martin/PA Wire)

“The Government will take forward its programme within the resources that are available to us, but I have to make it clear to people—to be straight with the public, which I will be—that public finances are under enormous pressure. We will set out our commitments as we take our budget decisions.”

But Mr Swinney was unable to shed light on whether the 3,500 was now a thing of fantasy.

Tory chairman Craig Hoy got a telling off from the Presiding Officer for yelling “we don’t need a lecture” and then got a maths lesson from the new FM in “elementary arithmetic”.

But Mr Swinney had just the thing to liven up what was gearing up to be a pretty sterile FMQs, particularly noticeable after a frantic fortnight at Holyrood.

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Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie (Photo by Lisa Ferguson)Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie (Photo by Lisa Ferguson)
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie (Photo by Lisa Ferguson)

After Labour leader Anas Sarwar prodded the FM, repeating his fear that “continuity won’t cut it”, Mr Swinney, struggling to utter the words himself, declared: “I’ve got good news for Anas Sarwar. The fresh leadership has just arrived.”

The whole chamber united in laugher at his analysis of his leadership.

Trying not to laugh himself, Mr Swinney added: “And I’m right here to deliver it.”

When Labour MSPs pointed at his own front bench beside themselves with laughter, Mr Swinney added: “They’re laughing because they are delighted I’m here to do it. They are over the moon that I’m here.”

John Swinney and Kate Forbes ahead of FMQs (Photo by Lesley Martin/PA Wire)John Swinney and Kate Forbes ahead of FMQs (Photo by Lesley Martin/PA Wire)
John Swinney and Kate Forbes ahead of FMQs (Photo by Lesley Martin/PA Wire)

He even boasted that in the 2026 Holyrood election, the people of Scotland “will send us back into government”. Quite a bold claim on your second day in a new job.

But it wasn’t all fun and games for the new leadership.

Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, has previously raised his concerns about the suitability of Kate Forbes to be Deputy First Minister - pointing to the views she expressed against single-sex marriage and children outside of marriage during last year’s SNP leadership contest. He didn’t hold back.

Focusing his fears at Kate Forbes being made Deputy First Minister, Mr Harvie warned against “the second most powerful job in government given to someone who has opposed LGBT people’s legal equality” and pointed to her having “expressed judgemental attitudes against abortion”, single-sex marriage and children outside of marriage.

He cuttingly added: “Is this the Scottish Government’s vision for the future of Scotland taking us back to the oppressive values of the 1950s?”

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Mr Forbes said very little throughout FMQs - she watched attentively in her first foray back into frontline politics – but she didn’t look up when Mr Harvie was having his say. But the FM defended her.

“It’s not the direction of the Scottish Government”, Mr Swinney said.

“The Government will be led from the moderate left-of-centre position that I have always occupied and which is the policy position of my party.

“I offer myself to be First Minister for everyone in Scotland and that is precisely what I will do.”

But in a sign of more obvious trouble ahead, Labour and Tory MSPs questioned why the Lord Advocate will not come before parliament and answer questions over the Crown Office’s role in the injustice for Post Office sub-postmasters.

Labour MSP Pauline McNeill has received correspondence showing the Crown Office failed to acknowledge a key report into computer software problems.

The email she received states that “if the Crown Office had at least taken the caution of checking this report” then “the outcome might well have been different” for the victims.

She added that the Crown Office “should be fully accountable for the miscarriages of justice” as it “didn’t provide the checks and balances that they should have”.

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Mr Swinney was not budging, stressing that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Office are “rightly independent from Government”, but he agreed to pass on the concerns to the Lord Advocate.

The Conservative leader could be heard accusing Mr Swinney of “blocking her coming to parliament” as the FM refrained from committing to the Lord Advocate being questioned over the issue.

But those questions will need to be answered at some point.

Mr Swinney has been in the door less than 48 hours, as he repeatedly pointed out at FMQs, and despite the absence of hostility at his first test of his leadership, the FM has a lot of plates to spin to keep an increasingly impatient parliament satisfied.



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