John Swinney appointed new leader of Scottish National party


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Veteran politician John Swinney is poised to become Scotland’s first minister this week after being appointed leader of the Scottish National party.

Swinney, who led the party in the early 2000s, is expected to face a vote in parliament as early as Tuesday as he seeks to reunite the SNP and face off a rising challenge from Scottish Labour in the upcoming general election.

At an event in Glasgow on Monday, he reiterated his “moderate, centre-left” policy agenda, calling on other parties in parliament, even unionists who disagree with the SNP over independence, to work with him and find “common cause” as he seeks to govern as a minority administration.

“My focus will be the economy, jobs, the cost of living,” he said. “It will be the NHS, our schools and our public services. It will be addressing the climate crisis.”

His principle policy interest would be to eradicate child poverty in Scotland, he added.

Swinney’s pathway to the party leadership had faced a potential delay when SNP activist Graeme McCormick began gathering nominations for a challenge that would have triggered a leadership contest.

McCormick on Sunday withdrew from the contest after a “lengthy and fruitful conversation” with Swinney in which they agreed on the “challenges” facing the SNP and Scotland and also “explored new thinking on a range of issues”.

Kate Forbes, who was beaten by Humza Yousaf in last year’s leadership contest, stepped aside last week after Swinney offered her a “significant” role in government.

With the SNP slightly short of a majority with 63 seats, compared with 65 for the opposition, Swinney would need to secure votes or abstentions from outside his party if he ran for first minister unopposed.

If other parties nominate any challengers, Swinney would only need to secure more votes than his competitors. His proposed cabinet is expected to follow.

The Scottish Greens, whose group of seven MSPs have taken on a pivotal role in Scottish politics, are expected to meet on Monday to co-ordinate their position, one person said.

The Greens precipitated the resignation of Yousaf after he ended a power-sharing deal with them and sacked their co-leaders from the cabinet. With the Greens refusing to back him, Yousaf decided to step down before facing a vote of no confidence.

The Greens, calling for a period of stable government, said Swinney would need to continue pursuing progressive policies to secure their support.

“If he is to have our support then it must be on the basis of progressive policies that help us to tackle the climate crisis and build a fairer and more equal future,” said co-leader Patrick Harvie.

While there was common ground between the SNP and the Greens, he said his minority administration would also work with other parties “to chart the future of Scotland”.

To pass legislation, including all-important budgets, as a minority government will require careful negotiation with opposition parties, a task he believes he can achieve given his long experience as a former finance secretary.

Swinney said he would concentrate on persuading Scots to back independence rather than becoming absorbed by the process through which that can be achieved.

He blamed the cost of living crisis on austerity imposed by Westminster and Brexit, which was opposed by most Scots.

“If we want to avoid these situations happening again, we have to have the powers of a normal independent country,” he said.

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