John Swinney to become Scottish first minister after vote by MSPs

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The new Scottish National party leader John Swinney will become Scotland’s seventh first minister after winning the backing of MSPs.

As is traditional, opposition leaders stood against Swinney in the vote, which he won just eight days after Humza Yousaf dramatically announced his departure, with the backing of 64 SNP MSPs, while the seven Scottish Greens abstained.

Accepting the nomination, Swinney spoke of how he had wrestled with the decision to stand for leadership, which he won unopposed on Monday.

He reminded the chamber that his wife, Elizabeth Quigley, lives with multiple sclerosis. “She is indefatigable in trying to make sure that MS does not get in the way of her living life to the full, but, much to her frustration, she does often have to rely on her husband for support and assistance.”

Speaking directly to her as she watched from the public gallery with his children, Swinney thanked her for “the sacrifices she is prepared to make to enable her husband to serve our country as first minster”.

He also said he took responsibility for his part in the growing polarisation of the parliament – his noisy cross-chamber heckles are well known and he has been rebuked for them by the presiding officer on multiple occasions. He promised the chamber “that will all stop – I have changed”, to a smattering of laughter.

Swinney, who was deputy first minister in Nicola Sturgeon’s government, will be officially sworn in at the court of session on Wednesday. He is expected to reshuffle his cabinet soon after, with Kate Forbes – who narrowly lost to Yousaf in last year’s leadership contest and agreed to back Swinney after private talks week – likely to take a leading position.

In his pitch to MSPs, Swinney – who must now govern from a minority position after Yousaf unilaterally axed the governing partnership with the Scottish Greens last week, precipitating his downfall – struck an emollient tone, noting the 25th anniversary of the Scottish parliament and praising other parties for their contribution over the years.

Opposition leaders pointed to Swinney’s involvement in past Scottish government failures – he is one of the SNP’s most experienced politicians and served as leader from 2000 to 2004. The Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross, accused the SNP of “replacing one continuity candidate with another” while Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar called for an early Holyrood election.

The Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater questioned whether Swinney would “retreat to the middle ground” by ditching the policy programme previously agreed between the SNP and her party, including rent controls and a ban on conversion practices, adding that “our door remains open” for future collaboration.

Yousaf made an emotional final statement as outgoing first minister, in which he thanked MSPs for the opportunity “to defy the far right, bigots and racists” who had told him to “go home” throughout his life.

“I have no other home than this one,” Yousaf, the first Muslim to hold the post, told MSPs. “I never will, I never have. My heart will forever belong to Scotland.”


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