Scottish election 2021 results: What next for John Swinney?

John Swinney became the first of the remaining class of 1999 to be re-elected to the Scottish Parliament following his victory in his constituency of Perthshire North.

The deputy first minister was given another endorsement from the electorate, winning his seat by more than 4,000 votes, up on his 2016 result by 0.9 per cent of the vote share.

Mr Swinney has had a long career in Holyrood as leader of the opposition during his stint as SNP leader before becoming finance secretary in 2007, a position he held until the 2016 election.

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What will the future hold for John Swinney in his sixth term as an MSP?

He was then appointed by Nicola Sturgeon to the position of education secretary – a position he has held for five years alongside his role as deputy first minister.

However, the appointment has left the MSP dogged in controversy and in failed manifesto pledges, most notably the failure of the SNP to close the attainment gap amidst a stagnation in standards.

Most damaging was the SQA exam results scandal in August last year.

In the middle of the pandemic, Mr Swinney came within a hair’s breadth of losing his job due to a colossal failure of judgement that led to thousands of young Scots handed lower grades than their teachers had awarded.

This issue around examinations has continued into the new year with the 2021 exam season seeing students sitting non-exam exams, teachers overworked and parents concerned.

A repeat scandal of crippling pupil mental health or another year of students feeling justifiably hard done by would hurt Mr Swinney.

One scandal you can survive, two in the space of two years on the same issue is unlikely.

Given his failure to adequately respond to demands to publish legal advice during the Alex Salmond inquiry, three scandals in one year is terminal.

Ms Sturgeon will naturally be looking at a Cabinet reshuffle post-election, with long-standing allies such as health secretary Jeane Freeman standing down.

The question is where Mr Swinney will be placed.

The education portfolio is in need of a refresh and Ms Sturgeon will be aware of this, though the most likely new face for the position, should he be elected, Angus Robertson, may well be better suited to health.

Mr Swinney is a useful lieutenant and will find a place somewhere, but his time leading Scottish education may be over.

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