John Swinney: What can we expect from Sturgeon Mark II - Analysis

John Swinney

John Swinney took over as First Minister

Tony Mcguire

By Tony Mcguire

Published: 09/05/2024

- 17:59

Tony McGuire gives his analysis of the future of Scotland under John Swinney

Scotland’s seventh First Minister was sworn into office this week after a fortnight of sudden and unexpected political drama.

The SNP will now look to John Swinney, one of Scotland’s longest serving parliamentarians, to heal the divisions wrought by nearly a decade of leadership under Nicola Sturgeon and her chosen successor, Humza Yousaf.

Despite his previous stint as party leader of the opposition between 2000 and 2004 resulting in mediocre election results, the sixteen years spent as Alex Salmond’s Finance Secretary and Nicola Sturgeon’s Deputy First Minister has gilded him with a unique level of experience.

His 2024 leadership campaign slogan was “United for Independence”. Swinney is a lifelong ‘true believer’ in the dream of Scottish Independence, joining the party aged just 15 back in 1979.

Yet one of his first decisions was to drop his predecessor’s Independence Minister position first introduced by his predecessor, but he approached independence from a gradualist perspective when he campaigned to lead the SNP at the turn of the millennium.

Nevertheless, his decision to drop the role has prompted many to consider what other step changes Scotland can expect under his tenure.

Speaking after being sworn in at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, John Swinney told journalists his “overriding priority will be to work to eradicate child poverty in Scotland.”

Pressed on how he hopes to achieve that, he said: “I have to recognise that the government is going to have to work collaboratively - it’s a minority government - it’s going to have to work with others to pursue its agenda within parliament.

“I’m very pleased that the groundwork that I’ve laid out in the course of the last few days have had such a positive reaction within Scotland because people want their parliament to come together.”

John Swinney believes the root cause of child poverty is “working against a prevailing tide of austerity”, to which he believes the answer lies in independent self-governance. Furthermore, he hopes to address the increased toxicity of Scottish politics emerging over the past few years, saying “the nature of our discourse has got to improve”.

“I’ve got to lead that,” says Mr Swinney, “I’m now the First Minister and I intend to lead by example in how I engage with others to bring the country together.” Arguably, the country has been divided since 2014 when Scotland went to the polls and 55% of voters chose to remain within the Union over independence.

Further divisions are visible even within the independence movement, with the Scottish Green Party unwilling to come to the table - or even march alongside - Alex Salmond’s Alba party. But arguably the most harmful discourse emerged in the wake of several pieces of legislation tabled during Nicola Sturgeon’s era in Government concerning gender ideology.

It forced the UK Government to issue the first Section 35 Order to block the Gender Recognition Reform Act from attaining royal ascent, spurred countless protests following the roll-out of the Hate Crime & Public Order Act and turned sour the public discourse around transgender identity.

Identifying the climate around gender politics, Mr Swinney’s first move was to return Kate Forbes to government as his Deputy First Minister, alongside a senior role in Economy.

This has prompted some, including the government-exiting Scottish Green Party, to suggest her inclusion suggests a lurch to the right, but Mr Swinney maintains he occupies the traditional centre-left of Scottish Politics.

“That’s where the Scottish National Party sits,” he said, “and that’s where we’ll govern from”. He told the parliament that his goals for Scotland know no bounds, ensuring people have a steady flow of good jobs, protecting the climate, returning a sense of power to the vulnerable and providing “opportunities for all”.

To be reiterated after the unveiling of his cabinet on the steps of Bute House, he told fellow MSPs: “I will be the First Minister for everyone in Scotland… everyone.

“Whether those individuals are in the LGBT community or not, I will be the First Minister of everybody in Scotland and my Government will aspire to be a government for all the people of our country.

Down in the polls and now led by it’s third First Minister within the same parliamentary period, the SNP can’t add any misfires and quite possibly recognising this, John Swinney has opted to make sure all his best players are taking to the field.

The result is very few changes from Humza Yousaf’s cabinet, save from the arrival of Kate Forbes.

The inescapable truth for Mr Swinney is that recent legislative decisions from a fatigued 17-year SNP government has revealed the breadth of the “broad church of the SNP” includes more than a few voices from the right, and in order to “Unite for Independence”, the party must first simply unite.

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