John Swinney emerges as frontrunner to replace Humza Yousaf as First Minister and SNP leader

Former deputy minister John Swinney is considering a bid to replace Humza Yousaf as leader of the SNP while Kate Forbes could also throw her hat into the ring.

John Swinney last night emerged as a frontrunner to succeed Humza Yousaf as several keys figures gave their backing to the former deputy first minister.

Mr Swinney has already received the support of key MSPs and MPs to become SNP leader and first minister, after Mr Yousaf’s dramatic resignation in the wake of his ill-fated decision to dump the Greens out of his government.

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SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn branded Mr Swinney’s experience as “second to none”, but the party veteran is yet to announce whether he will stand as he ponders the potential impact on his family of a return to frontline politics.

The backing for Mr Swinney has been voiced as nominations officially opened in the SNP leadership contest. The SNP’s national secretary announced nominations opened on Monday at 11.59pm and would close next Monday.

Prospective candidates will have to gain the support of 100 members from 20 different SNP branches to qualify for the contest.

Allies close to Kate Forbes, who lost out to Mr Yousaf in last year’s SNP leadership contest, have insisted she is also giving another run at Bute House “serious consideration”, while warning there should be no “rush by the old boys’ club to stitch up the succession”.

Mr Yousaf told a Bute House press conference that he would "continue as First Minister until my successor is appointed". But he confirmed he was quitting after admitting he "clearly under-estimated the level of upset and hurt” his decision to end the Bute House Agreement caused the Scottish Greens.

Amid speculation he was set to do a deal with Alex Salmond’s Alba party to survive a motion of no confidence hanging over him, the SNP leader insisted he was “not willing to trade my values and principles and do deals with whoever simply to retain power”.

Mr Yousaf said: “Repairing our relationship across the political divide can only be done with someone else at the helm."

The SNP is now facing another potentially toxic leadership contest as it gears up for what could be a difficult general election later this year.

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Speaking in London, Mr Swinney said he was giving “very active consideration” to running to replace Mr Yousaf as first minister after being inundated with requests to stand by colleagues.

Mr Swinney opted not to put himself forward to replace Nicola Sturgeon when she resigned last year, but has now thrown his hat into the ring to become the SNP’s third first minister since the 2021 Holyrood election.

Other potential candidates, including Neil Gray, are instead looking to hand their support to Mr Swinney if he does choose to run for office.

Education secretary Jenny Gilruth, who was touted as a potential leadership candidate over the weekend, said “John Swinney is the best choice to be Scotland’s first minister”, adding: “I will be strongly supporting him if, as I hope, he chooses to run.”

Mr Swinney also secured the backing of Mr Flynn, the SNP Westminster leader. Speaking to the News Agents podcast, Mr Flynn said: “I think there’s only one person who has the experience to do that job. There’s only one person who can unite the parts, there’s only one person who can unite the country and have that vision that he can go on and deliver.

"I would like to think that person would be John Swinney. I would certainly encourage him to stand. I hope that he is in a position to put himself forward and I would certainly hope that colleagues and members could certainly back him if he did.”

But Ms Forbes could still launch a leadership bid, despite Mr Swinney emerging as the favourite. SNP MSP Michelle Thomson, who was Ms Forbes’s campaign manager last year, confirmed the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP is giving a second leadership bid “serious consideration”.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Swinney said: “I’m giving very careful consideration to standing to be the leader of the SNP. I’ve been somewhat overwhelmed by the requests that have been made of me to do that with many, many messages from many colleagues across the party.

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“I’m giving that issue very active consideration and it’s likely I’ll have more to say about that in the days to come.”

Pressed over his thinking, Mr Swinney said: “I’m going to give it consideration. I’ve got lots of things to think about. The whole question of my family and I have to make sure I do the right thing by my family – they are precious to me. I have to do the right thing by my party and by my country.

“There’s lots to be thought about and I’ll give that consideration in the days to come.”

Asked over the ending of the power-sharing deal and the need to reach out to the Greens and other parties, Mr Swinney said “there was quite clearly strains within the Bute House Agreement”, adding “it’s important that those issues are considered carefully and handled with care”.

He said: “Obviously, I spent a large amount of my time in government doing exactly that in the past. So, it’s important that those are the values and the characteristics that are brought to how we deal with other political parties, and particularly now the SNP will be a minority government in the Scottish Parliament. It’s important that there is an approach taken which ensures that we work carefully with all political parties in the Scottish Parliament.”

However, SNP MP Joanna Cherry warned against Mr Swinney taking over from Mr Yousaf.

Writing on X, she said: “John Swinney is hugely respected across our party, but the lesson of the last year is that the SNP needs a complete re-set. We must go forward, not backwards. Kate [Forbes] was right when she said that continuity would not cut it. The next leader must deliver change.”

She added: “There is no need for an unseemly rush by the [old] boys’ club to stitch up the succession. The leader of the SNP should be chosen by our members, not by men in grey suits.”

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SNP deputy leader Keith Brown instead backed Mr Swinney to become the next first minister.

He said: “We now need experience, engagement and unity, and I very much hope that John Swinney will put himself forward.”

SNP MP Peter Wishart added: “John Swinney would be an excellent unifier for our country and our party. We should all get behind him if he chooses to run.”

Whoever takes over the reins as SNP leader could face the same bind as Mr Yousaf if they fail to gain the support of opposition parties – particularly the Greens, as they ran a minority government.

Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie suggested his party had “a long track record of working constructively from opposition”, adding they “will do so with any first minister who shares our progressive values and who can secure our confidence”.

Labour leader Anas Sarwar said he could still push for a vote of non confidence in the Scottish Government, warning the SNP “cannot impose another unelected first minister on Scotland in a backroom deal”.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross said he thought John Swinney would be “crowned” SNP leader without a contest as soon as next week.He said: “I don’t think there’s going to be a contest. My reading of the situation now is John Swinney will be crowned as SNP leader with no contest, and I think as soon as next week there will be a vote in the Scottish Parliament to elect him as the first minister.“You’ve seen countless senior politicians both here at Westminster and in Edinburgh back John Swinney. Of course, it’s the same John Swinney that last year ruled himself out and said it’s time for fresh talent to come through.”He added: “That’s not really going to be a change, it’ll be more of the same, that’s focusing on independence at the expense of the real priorities that people across Scotland have.”



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