Kate Forbes 'honoured' to become deputy first minister

Kate Forbes
Kate Forbes has also taken control of the economy portfolio [PA Media]

Kate Forbes has returned to the Scottish government as deputy first minister as John Swinney unveiled an almost entirely unchanged cabinet.

She replaces Shona Robison, the only switch from Humza Yousaf's cabinet.

Ms Robison, who said she had offered to step down as deputy first minister, has kept her other position as finance secretary.

Ms Forbes said she was "deeply honoured" to become deputy first minister.

She has also taken control of the economy portfolio - with Net Zero and Energy Secretary Mairi McAllan losing the wellbeing economy brief - as well as gaining responsibility for Gaelic.

Ms Forbes, who has spent more than a year as a backbench MSP after stepping down from government in March 2023, had been promised a "significant" role in the government after opting not to run against Mr Swinney for the SNP leadership.

The first minister made the cabinet appointments at his official residence, Bute House, after being sworn in at the Court of Session.

He said: "I have selected a cabinet team that blends experience and energy, with a strong focus on the priorities my government will pursue — eradicating child poverty, driving economic growth, meeting climate obligations and investing in our vital public services."

John Swinney's cabinet

Details were later given of 14 non-cabinet ministerial appointments, down from the previous figure of 16, with the role of minister for independence now removed.

Jamie Hepburn - who previously held that remit - takes over as minister for parliamentary business from George Adam.

Mr Adam is leaving the government to return to the backbenches along with Emma Roddick and Joe Fitzpatrick.

Ivan McKee, a key ally of Kate Forbes who quit government in the wake of Nicola Sturgeon's resignation, returns as minister for public finance

Earlier, in a statement, Shona Robison revealed she had told Mr Swinney last week she believed her stepping down as deputy leader, in favour of Ms Forbes, would help bring the SNP together.

"I told you I believed this would strongly signal that for all of us in government, this is the best approach to showing we are united and ready to serve the people of Scotland," Ms Robison said in a letter to the first minister.

"It is also in the best interests of your leadership and for the party; and both of us have always put public duty and the interests of the party over and above any self interest."

Mr Swinney, in a written response, said he was "deeply" appreciative of Ms Robison's offer to "step aside from the role".

The cabinet appointments will be formally approved in parliament on Thursday.

Shona Robison
Shona Robison offered to step down as deputy first minister to help bring the party together [PA Media]

Kate Forbes returns to government after more than a year on the backbenches.

She quit government in March 2023 after narrowly losing out to Mr Yousaf in the SNP leadership contest and rejecting a demotion to a rural affairs minister.

The Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP had enjoyed a rapid rise following her election to parliament in 2016, aged 26, becoming Scotland's first female finance secretary in 2020.

After being named deputy first minister, Ms Forbes said: "This is a moment of extraordinary privilege for me. Having previously served in cabinet, I know the duty that all ministers have to reflect the government's priorities and the missions that drive them."

Mr Swinney said Ms Forbes was an "immensely talented politician", adding: "Her new role will prove critical as we focus on our key commitments of eradicating child poverty, investing in public services and supporting economic growth."

Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie - who served with Ms Forbes in government for more than 18 months - raised concerns about her return to office.

He said "a lot of people will be concerned about the appointment" unless Mr Swinney recommitted his government to "progressive" policies on climate, social rights and taxation.

Mr Harvie also posted a "no right turn" sign on X.

During the 2023 SNP leadership campaign, Ms Forbes came under fire for her views on gay marriage, abortion and trans rights. A member of the Free Church of Scotland, she said that having children outside of marriage was "wrong" according to her faith.

Mr Swinney, also a Christian, said at the time he profoundly disagreed with her comments and questioned whether her views made her "appropriate" to be first minister.

Ms Forbes also said she was opposed to the SNP government's power-sharing Bute House Agreement with the Scottish Greens. The collapse of the Bute House deal last month led to Mr Yousaf's resignation.

Mr Harvie said the new deputy first minister had expressed "quite startlingly social conservative views" in the last SNP leadership campaign and said he would "welcome" a commitment from the government to a progressive agenda.

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said the "uninspiring" new cabinet would deliver "more of the same".

"The return of Kate Forbes is a desperate attempt by both John Swinney and his new deputy to gloss over the huge splits in the SNP and fixate on independence," he said.

Scottish Labour's Jackie Baillie said what the country needed was the chance to choose a new government in an election.

"This is a continuity cabinet that cannot be trusted to fix the chaos and instability they have created," she said.