SNP back on the pitch with John Swinney and Kate Forbes after year of chaos and trauma

The SNP is in its strongest position in years after a traumatic and brutal ten days.

Replacing Humza Yousaf and Shona Robison with John Swinney and Kate Forbes is like a passenger upgrading from standard to first class.

Swinney installed Forbes as his number two for the same reason Yousaf ditched the Greens - restoring party unity.

SNP MSPs had grown increasingly irritated with the Greens after Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to bring them into Government.

They believed the SNP’s mainstream agenda had been hijacked by a party pursuing niche and damaging policies.

Yousaf sacked the Greens from Government but ended up bringing himself down in the process.

The tensions had been aggravated by last year’s bitter leadership contest during which Yousaf and Forbes tore each other apart.

She laid into his record in Government and he used her social conservatism to say she was not fit to be First Minister.

Voters saw a party obsessed with itself and not the bread and butter issues that keep them awake at night

But while Yousaf’s unity move backfired, Swinney’s ‘big tent’ reshuffle has worked a treat.

He feared the party would never recover from another damaging contest and he gave Forbes the deputy gig to stop her running.

His SNP Cabinet now represents social democrats, centrists and moderate conservatives like Forbes.

His 63 SNP MSPs fall short of a majority, but Swinney knows if his group is united they will be hard to beat.

This is because the opposition will only win votes if the right wing Tories team up with the left wing Greens and bring along Labour and the Lib Dems.

Such an outcome is possible, but scoring regular wins against the Government will require political gymnastics of incredible flexibility.

Swinney also has scars on his back from his previous disastrous spell as leader twenty years ago.

In that era, SNP MSPs took daily pot-shots at him and his leadership fell apart.

He knows from bitter experience the pitfalls of a divided group and will not make the same mistakes this time.

But there are dangers in dragging Forbes out of political exile and back into Government.

Although she is competent, professional and smart, her role as DFM could see the Government take a step to the right.

She does not believe silent prayer should be banned outside abortion clinics and she was evasive on a conversion therapy ban during the leadership contest.

The pro-business Forbes could also insist that measures costing firms more money are ditched in the name of enterprise.

Bringing Forbes on board could alienate the moderate centre left and effectively make her the favourite to be the next leader.

But even the opposition parties admit that the SNP reboot makes them more formidable. Swinney, while responsible for a number of serious failures over the last seventeen years, is seen by voters as a serious man and a dutiful husband.

Forbes’ social conservatism is a turn off for many voters, but she is viewed as a principled and capable politician.

The SNP under Yousaf was headed for general election catastrophe and a likely loss of Holyrood in 2026.

They have now stabilised and have an opportunity to remain the largest Scottish party at Westminster..

As pollster John Curtice said: "Bringing Yousaf down was the worst thing the Unionists could have done. It's now a reset moment."

Scots Labour leader Anas Sarwar often says he has ensured his party is back on the pitch after years of irrelevance and squabbling.

He now has a match on his hands.

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