John Swinney set to become next First Minister as Kate Forbes confirms she will not run

Mr Swinney said he wanted Ms Forbes to play a ‘significant’ role, fuelling speculation she will be his deputy

John Swinney has pledged to unite the SNP and deliver for the country as his rival Kate Forbes announced she would not enter the party's leadership race, meaning he is almost certain to be sworn in as Scotland’s next first minister as early as next week.

Mr Swinney said he was “no caretaker” and would lead the SNP into the 2026 Holyrood election and beyond.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In a bid to bring his party together, he said he wanted Ms Forbes to play a “significant part” in his top team. “She is an intelligent, creative, thoughtful person who has much to contribute to our national life,” he said. “If elected, I will make sure that Kate is able to make that contribution.”

John Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesJohn Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
John Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Ms Forbes, the former finance secretary, later confirmed she would not stand for the leadership. Mr Swinney refused to say whether he had offered her a role as his deputy.

“We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves,” he told journalists at his campaign launch in Edinburgh. However, Shona Robison, the current deputy first minister and finance secretary, was notably absent from his leadership launch, despite several other senior ministers attending.

Mr Swinney will take over at a difficult time for the SNP. Polls show declining support, while recent months have seen a barrage of damaging headlines in the wake of the ongoing police investigation into the party’s funding and finances.

Humza Yousaf announced his resignation as First Minister on Monday, after his decision to end the power-sharing agreement between the SNP and the Greens dramatically backfired.

In a statement, Ms Forbes, who stood against Mr Yousaf last year and was only narrowly defeated following a bruising contest, said she had "weighed the decision whether or not to seek the leadership of the party with great care”.

She said: “Ultimately, I have concluded that the best way to deliver the urgent change Scotland needs is to join with John Swinney and advocate for that reform agenda within the Scottish Government.

"I can therefore today announce that I will not be seeking nomination as the next SNP leader. John will therefore have my support and endorsement in any campaign to follow. I sincerely thank every party member, and each of my parliamentary colleagues in Holyrood and Westminster, who have been in touch to urge me to stand.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I recognise many people might be disappointed that I will not be contesting the position of leader at this time. To those people I say this – you can be certain that delivering on the priorities for which we have, together, advocated in recent years has been at the heart of today’s decision.

“It is now clear from this morning’s statement that in John Swinney, we have someone who not only understands that need for reform, but has now committed to delivering it. I look forward to playing my role in making that happen.”

Ms Forbes enjoyed strong support from those within the SNP who are unhappy at the recent direction of the party and want change, such as MP Joanna Cherry and MSP Fergus Ewing. She said Mr Swinney was “clear that he is determined to return the SNP to governing from the mainstream”.

Launching his campaign in Edinburgh under the slogan “uniting for independence”, Mr Swinney said he would “bring the SNP back together again” and “get us focused on what we do best”. The SNP, he said, is “not as cohesive as it should be”.

He said: “My message is crisp and simple – I am stepping forward to bring the SNP together, deliver economic growth and social justice, to deliver the very best future for everyone in a modern, dynamic, diverse Scotland.”

Mr Swinney, who turned 60 a couple of weeks ago, joined the SNP as a teenager and served as an MP at Westminster before becoming an MSP when the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999.

After the SNP won power in 2007, he then served in the Scottish Government for 16 years, stepping down as deputy first minister only last year when Ms Sturgeon resigned. He was SNP leader between 2000 and 2004, but quit in the wake of a series of poor electoral performances.

Mr Swinney said: “Having served as a senior minister for 16 years, having helped steer Scotland so close to independence in 2014, I want to give all I have in me to ensure the success of our cause. I believe I have the experience, the skills and I command the trust and the confidence of people across this country.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He had already attracted significant support from within the SNP, including from the vast majority of Cabinet ministers, as well as from Stephen Flynn, the party’s Westminster leader.

Nominations for the SNP leadership close at midday on Monday, but it is not thought Mr Swinney will face another serious challenger.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said Ms Forbes had “caved into SNP demands for a stitch-up to install John Swinney as leader and spare the party the bloodbath of another leadership contest”.

He added: “But this shady backroom deal won’t cover-up the bitter splits that exist within the SNP – it just applies a sticking plaster to a gaping wound. Kate Forbes famously warned that ‘continuity won’t cut it’ when it came to Humza Yousaf, yet she’s now urging the SNP to go back to the future by imposing John Swinney – a failed former leader, tied at the hip to Nicola Sturgeon – as First Minister.

“Scotland deserves better than someone whose fingerprints are all over 17 years of SNP failure and secrecy. John Swinney has confirmed, via his campaign slogan, that he will ignore the public’s real priorities to obsess about independence yet again.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has said: “The people of Scotland are crying out for change – but all the SNP is offering them is yesterday’s man in John Swinney.

“John Swinney was the finance minister who broke the public finances, the worst education secretary in the history of the Scottish Parliament, the deputy first minister who deleted evidence meant for the Covid inquiry and the man who has been at the heart of this incompetent SNP Government for the past 17 years.

“Scotland’s public services are in crisis with almost one in six Scots on NHS waiting lists, the economy stagnating and homelessness on the rise. But rather than facing up to the challenges that we face, the SNP has put the interests of their party before the country yet again.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said Mr Swinney was “a candidate with more baggage than an airport carousel”, adding: "For more than two decades, John Swinney has been complicit in every moment of the SNP's division, neglect and failure.”

But Polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice said the momentum against the SNP was not irreversible.

“This is the re-set moment,” he said. “What is now crucial is do the SNP get somebody in place who can unite the party, get an accommodation with the Greens and project the party and the cause of independence much more effectively than was the case for the last 12 months?

“I have some question marks about Swinney on the second criteria, but he certainly should be able to do it on the first.”

The Strathclyde University professor said opposition politicians had “overplayed their hand” in bringing about the downfall of Humza Yousaf, and stressed both Mr Swinney and Ms Forbes “could do a better job than Yousaf”.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.