John Swinney promises ‘new chapter’ for the SNP and Scotland

John Swinney promises ‘new chapter’ for the SNP and Scotland

John Swinney promised a “new chapter” as he took over as SNP leader, admitting his party has been through “a rough time”.

He was speaking after being confirmed as the only candidate to succeed Humza Yousaf, who announced last Monday he was stepping down as both SNP leader and Scottish First Minister.

He insisted he was “deeply honoured” to take on the role, promising to “give all that I have to serve my party and my country”.

It is the second time that Mr Swinney has been named as SNP leader – but this time he is also now likely to be declared as Scotland’s new first minister following a vote in the Scottish Parliament later this week.

But after Mr Yousaf ended the powersharing agreement with the Scottish Greens, he will have to operate a minority administration at Holyrood.

Here he promised to “seek compromises that serve our nation well” as he told the other parties at Holyrood that their opposition to independence was not a reason not to work with him on areas such as health, jobs and the economy.

Mr Swinney pledged he would “seek to find common ground” and “join together in coalitions of the willing and solve the problems our country faces”.

The new SNP leader, who has already pledged to lead a centre-left government, told Scots: “If elected first minister, my focus will be the economy, jobs, the cost of living. It will be the National Health Service, our schools and our public services. It will be addressing the climate crisis.”

He said he would “seek, with respect and courtesy, to persuade people of the case for independence”.

But he insisted that rival parties’ opposition to this was “not a reason for them to refuse to work with us to build the economy, support jobs and improve the health service”.

His appointment as SNP leader for a second time, having held the post between 2000 and 2004, comes exactly a week after Mr Yousaf’s resignation.

At the start of his speech at Glasgow University on Monday, Mr Swinney paid tribute to his predecessor, hailing Mr Yousaf’s “moral leadership on the issue of Gaza”, adding he would “continue to make a substantial contribution to the public life of Scotland”.

But he said his appointment to the post of SNP leader was “the beginning of a new chapter” for the party.

While he said the SNP has “faced a rough time recently as a party” he insisted the fact that he was the only candidate to be the next leader “demonstrates the Scottish National Party is now coming back together again now”.

He insisted he wanted to “create a modern, diverse, dynamic Scotland” as he added that the “polarisation of politics does not serve our country well”.

Mr Swinney stated: “Too often, too many people are too busy fighting to win battles when we should be seeking solutions to problems.”

He continued: “We need to stop shouting at each other and talk to each other. More than that, actually, we need to listen.

“And as first minister, I will do exactly that.”

Mr Yousaf meanwhile congratulated his successor, as he urged SNP members to “get behind John and his team so they can deliver for Scotland”.

But speaking about Mr Swinney, the Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “It’s difficult to see how he can be the fresh start Scotland needs, when he’s the ultimate continuity candidate.

“John Swinney was joined at the hip with the disgraced Nicola Sturgeon and his fingerprints are all over her numerous policy failures and cover-ups.”

The Tory added: “With John Swinney at the helm, the SNP will double down on their independence obsession – the one issue they agree on – and ignore the real priorities of the Scottish people, such as fixing our ailing public services and growing the economy.”

John Swinney previously served as SNP leader between 2000 and 2004 (Ben Curtis/PA)
John Swinney previously served as SNP leader between 2000 and 2004 (Ben Curtis/PA)

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar hit out: “At a time when Scotland is crying out for change, the SNP is offering more of the same.

“John Swinney has been at the heart of this incompetent government for 17 years and at the heart of the SNP for 40 years.

“From presiding over the exam results scandal as education secretary to destroying public finances as finance secretary, John Swinney’s record is one of failure.”

Similarly, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “As his party’s leader and a former wingman to both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney is now answerable for the SNP’s appalling neglect of public services over the past 17 years.

“He should immediately announce a plan for cutting NHS waiting lists and stopping sewage flowing into our rivers and if he can’t do that he should announce an election.”