Key tasks facing Swinney as SNP leader – and likely new Scottish first minister

Newly elected leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) John Swinney delivers his acceptance speech at Glasgow University
Newly elected SNP leader John Swinney delivers his acceptance speech at Glasgow University -Credit:PA

John Swinney, who was for over eight years deputy first minister at Holyrood, now seems certain to take on the top job in Scottish politics. He was named SNP leader today and will face a vote in the Scottish Parliament later this week, where he is likely to be named first minister.

But as first minister he is sure to face a bulging in-tray, packed with issues to address, when he enters Bute House.

Perhaps the first task facing him in his new role will be to appoint the cabinet team who will support him as part of the Scottish Government.

A veteran of the Scottish Government since the SNP, Mr Swinney has already held many of the key posts, including having served as finance secretary, and education secretary, so will know what is expected of those he appoints to serve under him.

A new Scottish cabinet could be announced as early as Thursday, with all eyes on what post could be given to Kate Forbes, who like Mr Swinney has previously been in charge of the finance brief for the Scottish Government.

She had ran to be SNP leader and first minister when Nicola Sturgeon stepped down, coming a close second to Humza Yousaf.

This time round however she declined to stand, instead backing Mr Swinney and appointing her to a key post in the Scottish Government could also help the new SNP leader with another task he faced, that of uniting his party.

Ms Forbes is amongst a group of SNP MSPs who have spoken out against several of the policies pursued and promoted by the Scottish Greens while in government, such as gender recognition reforms, which were blocked by Westminster, and highly protected marine areas, a policy which was ditched by the Scottish Government after attracting criticism from the fishing sector and others.

While Ms Forbes refused to serve in Mr Yousaf’s cabinet team, bringing her back into the heart of government could help appease those within the SNP who had been concerned about the role the Greens played in power.

With the powersharing agreement with the Greens no longer in place, Mr Swinney will be forced to lead a minority government at Holyrood.

As part of this role he will have to work with other parties in the Scottish Parliament on an issue by issue basis if he wants legislation to be passed by Holyrood.

He acknowledged this when he announced he was running for the SNP leadership, saying his party must now “work to seek common ground in the Scottish Parliament in the interests of the public and of good governance”.

Mr Swinney added that as a result, the party’s approach in Holyrood would “have to change, to listen, to compromise, to work with all other political parties”.

As new SNP leader he will have lead his party in what could likely prove to be a difficult general election campaign later this year.

Polls suggest the SNP could lose seats at Westminster, with the party facing a challenge from a revived Scottish Labour Party in the battle for votes.

Meanwhile his appointment comes as the Police Scotland probe into the SNP’s finances continues, with the new party leader also having to deal with any further political fallout from that.

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