John Swinney says general election is 'moment to put Scotland first' as SNP leader faces crunch campaign

John Swinney has welcomed the announcement of a snap general election on July 4 and insisted it was a "moment to put Scotland first".

The First Minister faces leading his party into a crunch campaign just weeks after he replaced Humza Yousaf.

The SNP won 48 seats in Scotland at the last general election but is now trailing Labour in recent surveys of voting intentions.

The Nationalists have been widely tipped to suffer widespread losses - particularly across the central belt - unless Swinney can steer his party back ahead.

The First Minister already faces a busy June with his Government expected to issue a detailed policy agenda before Holyrood enters summer recess.

Speaking tonight, he said: "I very much look forward to leading the SNP in this election campaign.

"This is the moment to remove the Tory government and put Scotland first by voting SNP. We will work night and day to protect them from the damage done by Westminster.

"The SNP offers a better future to the broken Westminster consensus.

"In this election we’ll be making the case why decisions about Scotland should be made here – and I’ll take that message to every part of Scotland.

"In government, we’ve grown Scotland’s economy, doubled frontline funding for the NHS and ensured Scotland has the highest number of GPs per head in the UK. We’re helping with the cost of living through measures such as free prescriptions, free bus travel for under-22s and off-peak rail fares all day.

"A vote for the SNP is a vote to put Scotland first – and for Scotland to become an independent country."

Professor John Curtice, the country's top polling expert, had earlier told the BBC he doubted the SNP would welcome an early UK election.

He said: "North of the border, I think the Scottish National Party will not welcome this early election. They have just replaced their leader and John Swinney is hoping to turn things around.

"And at the moment, the SNP is running about five or six points behind Labour in the polls north of the Border.

"The truth is this just looks like an election for Labour to win.

"There are almost two words that come to mind, so far as the Prime Minister is concerned. He is either very brave, or extremely foolhardy. And we will discover in the early hours of July 5 which of those judgements proves to be correct."

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