John Swinney urged to refuse to work with Scottish Greens when he becomes SNP leader

Douglas Ross has issued a list of demands for presumptive SNP leader John Swinney – and they cover both independence and the Scottish Greens

Presumptive SNP leader and first minister John Swinney has been urged by the Scottish Conservatives to drop his party’s push for independence and refuse to work with the Greens.

In a letter likely to get short shrift from the veteran MSP, Tory leader Douglas Ross pushed Mr Swinney to commit not to request the powers to hold another independence referendum for the entirety of his time in power if he becomes first minister.

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The former deputy first minister looks set to take the top job after Kate Forbes – thought to be the only other realistic contender for the role – announced on Thursday she would not run.

SNP leader-in-waiting John Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesSNP leader-in-waiting John Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
SNP leader-in-waiting John Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Mr Ross issued a list of demands as Green MSP Gillian Mackay said the new first minister needed to recommit to progressive policies and tackling the climate emergency.

Ms Mackay, who previously broke down in tears during a radio interview following the collapse of the Bute House Agreement, said her party would work with Mr Swinney on an “issue-by-issue basis”.

Mr Ross’s letter – packed with inflammatory language including accusations of a “stitch up” for Mr Swinney to get the job – said: “As it appears that you have already won your party’s leadership contest, it is now essential that you set the right tone should you be elected as first minister next week, one which appeals to the whole of Scotland, not just SNP members.

“As such, you should make it inescapably clear that independence is no longer a priority for your Government.”

He pushed Mr Swinney to scrap the role of independence minister – currently held by Jamie Hepburn – as well as to cancel independence papers published by Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf, and not to request vote powers from Westminster.

Doing so, Mr Ross said, would “free up Government time and strategic direction to focus on the many failings in Government of the SNP over the past 17 years”.

Mr Ross also urged the potential future first minister to rule out a deal with the Scottish Greens, who he called “extreme” and “anti-economic growth”. The SNP does not have a majority in Parliament and will likely need to look to other parties for support to pass legislation – not least to ensure its new leader is elected first minister.

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Given the acrimony between parties at Holyrood, the pro-independence Greens seem the most likely party to work with the SNP.

But Mr Ross said Green MSPs should not be appointed as ministers – as had been the case under the Bute House Agreement – and he called on the Scottish Government to commit to support new oil and gas licences in the North Sea and to “major road upgrades”, such as dualling the A9 and A96.

Ms Mackay earlier said a new Bute House Agreement, or similar deal, was “very, very unlikely” to come to fruition under Mr Swinney.

Speaking to the BBC, Ms Mackay said: “I think the likelihood is that we will be engaging on an issue-by-issue basis with whoever it is that is in the first minister’s seat in the coming weeks.”

The Central MSP added: “We’re still looking for the progressive policy package we agreed on in the Bute House Agreement, and delivering on things like rent controls and my Bill on safe access zones around abortion services. I would like to see these recommitted to by any new first minister.

“It is not certain it will be John [Swinney], but we have worked with him as part of government before. But there are several things we need to see.”

Ms Mackay was also asked about the prospect of Ms Forbes being made deputy first minister under Mr Swinney. Ms Forbes has come under criticism for her socially conservative views on gay marriage and abortions, some of the causes championed by the Scottish Greens.

Ms Mackay said: “There’s obviously a great divide between myself and Kate on a variety of issues. It depends on what goes with that deputy first minister portfolio – there’s certainly things we would be more or less inclined to look on favourably, but that’s something we have to watch and wait over the coming weeks to see if Cabinet shakes out.”

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Previously the Greens were expected to support the Government in Holyrood as part of their power-sharing deal, which was signed by former first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater back in 2021.

However, last week Humza Yousaf ended that agreement and threw the two Green ministers out of government, kick-starting the chain of events that would eventually lead to his resignation.

Mr Ross’s comments came after one of the most senior ministers in Humza Yousaf’s Government said SNP members did not want a repeat of the “bruising” leadership election of last year.

Net zero secretary Mairi McAllan, who introduced Mr Swinney at his campaign launch in Edinburgh on Thursday, said the Perthshire North MSP was the “right man” to unite the party.

Ms McAllan said: “There is a sense within the party that the last contest was a particularly bruising one, and I think there is absolutely a sense among members and activists that many of us would not wish to see that repeated.

“I think what the biggest deciding factor has been so far is the stature of John Swinney as somebody who has come forward. He is well loved and respected within our party, and I think, most importantly actually, he commands the trust and confidence of the people of Scotland, which we in the SNP know is exactly what is needed right now.”

A spokesman for Mr Swinney said: “If elected as first minister, Mr Swinney has committed to engaging in substantive and meaningful dialogue with all parties in the Scottish Parliament. No reasonable individual could conclude that Douglas Ross’s letter is an accurate assessment of the SNP’s record or a helpful contribution to public discourse.”



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