Will John Swinney change the SNP’s fortunes?

You would be brave to predict anything in Scottish politics with any certainty given the fortnight we have just had.

But one thing does looks all but nailed on – John Swinney will be the next SNP leader. And by extension, he’s almost certain to be the next first minister.

After days of turmoil – and months of challenging polls – SNP members will be hoping he is the man to steady the ship.

Are they right?

Let’s start with Humza Yousaf’s record.

There is no doubt that circumstances have been tricky for Mr Yousaf, not least because of the high-profile police investigation into his party.

But decisions like standing by the former health secretary Michael Matheson, despite the controversy over his iPad bill, were viewed as strategic, unforced blunders.

Mr Yousaf also angered his then parliamentary allies, the Greens, at the SNP conference last year with an announcement that he was freezing council tax.

That decision also went down badly with local authorities.

And in December he failed in a bid to legally challenge the blocking of Holyrood's gender reform bill.

That controversial piece of legislation was opposed by a number of his own MSPs, who were not happy his government kept the debate alive.

“Humza was the gift that kept on giving” as a senior Labour figure put it.

They acknowledge Labour’s bounce in the polls – sometimes closing in on the SNP – was as much about the unpopularity of Mr Yousaf’s SNP as anything else.

The senior Labour figure went as far as to suggest they thought the Conservatives had made a mistake forcing a confidence vote in the first minister, because he was so good for his opponents.

The key question now is simple: will John Swinney be different?

He brings experience to the job, as Scotland’s longest serving parliamentarian and someone who has served in government in a number of jobs.

The phrase "safe pair of hands" has been constantly used at Holyrood in recent days.

'Tougher leader'

One senior Scottish Labour figure conceded that he would be a more formidable opponent than his predecessor.

The fact a contest looks highly unlikely now means opposition hopes of a damaging internal row have dissipated (although do not expect party tensions to disappear completely).

A Scottish Conservative insider also predicted that that John Swinney would be a “tougher leader”, more likely to bring the SNP back together.

Another Scottish Tory figure echoed the feeling that John Swinney would bring more stability to his party.

And a senior Liberal Democrat admitted they were now more nervous the SNP had made themselves “more electable” by changing leader now.

But experience brings baggage.

You can expect to hear opposition parties argue at length that Mr Swinney is a sign the SNP have run out of ideas.

A man who stood down from the government has been brought back because of a crisis.

Some Tories feel they dodged a potential bullet when Kate Forbes – the former finance secretary – ruled herself out of the SNP leadership yesterday.

One Tory said they would have been worried out her “fresh approach” and potential to “turn the page” on 17 years of SNP government.

It is worth remembering she may well still end up in a senior position in the Scottish government, though.

The Scottish Greens are broadly happy with how things look to be turning out.

They have made no secret of their disapproval of some of Kate Forbes’ social and economic views.

With their support, John Swinney probably has a route to a workable parliamentary majority to pass legislation and budgets - though this is likely to be on an issue by issue basis, rather than any sort of formal deal.

It is important to stress that no opposition party seems to regard John Swinney’s election as any sort of massive gamechanger.

He may well bring some benefits. But some believe that after years of defying it, electoral gravity may be catching up with the SNP – and Mr Swinney might find it hard to keep flying.