SNP veteran John Swinney is frontrunner to be Scotland's next leader

FILE PHOTO: SNP Annual National Conference in Aberdeen

By Muvija M

LONDON (Reuters) -Scottish National Party (SNP) veteran John Swinney became the clear frontrunner to become Scotland's next leader on Thursday after a potential opponent ruled herself out of the contest and backed him.

The SNP is looking for a new leader following the resignation of Humza Yousaf as party chief and Scotland's first minister on Monday.

The turmoil in the SNP after a series of political missteps and a funding scandal have boosted the British Labour Party's hopes of regaining ground in Scotland as it seeks to win a UK parliamentary election this year.

Kate Forbes, who lost a leadership contest to Yousaf last year, said in a statement she would not seek the nomination to become the SNP's leader and that they shared a "common purpose".

Others have until May 6 to declare their candidacy. If more candidates emerge, a ballot of SNP members will be held between May 13 and 27.

The SNP wants to regain its once-dominant position in Scotland and rejuvenate the push for an independence referendum.

"I want to build on the work of the SNP government to create a modern, diverse, dynamic Scotland that will ensure opportunity for all of our citizens," Swinney, 60, told a press conference. "I want to unite the SNP and unite Scotland for independence."

Scotland, one of the United Kingdom's four nations, has a semi-autonomous or "devolved" government run by a first minister. Issues such as defence and national security are overseen by the British government.

Yousaf quit after his decision to end a coalition with the Green Party backfired. The new SNP leader will lead a minority government in the devolved Scottish parliament.

Swinney was SNP leader from 2000-2004 and has served as Scotland's deputy first minister and finance minister. He backed a gender recognition reform bill that prompted a backlash from some SNP lawmakers.

(Reporting by Muvija M; additional reporting by Sarah Young; writing by William James and Sachin Ravikumar, editing by Elizabeth Piper, Ros Russell and Timothy Heritage)