Kate Forbes backs John Swinney for first minister

John Swinney looks set to become Scotland's next first minister after Kate Forbes confirmed she would not challenge him for the SNP leadership.

Mr Swinney, the former deputy first minister and party leader, announced his intention to succeed Humza Yousaf and offered Ms Forbes a "significant" role in his government.

Ms Forbes later confirmed in a statement she would not stand in the contest and endorsed Mr Swinney.

The former finance secretary had been the only other SNP politician to publicly state she was considering a leadership bid.

She said a statement: "I have concluded that the best way to deliver the urgent change Scotland needs is to join with John Swinney and advocate for that reform agenda within the Scottish government.

“I can therefore today announce that I will not be seeking nomination as the next SNP leader.

“John will therefore have my support and endorsement in any campaign to follow.”

Ms Forbes said she had “listened carefully” to Mr Swinney’s statement and welcomed his “commitment to ensure internal respect for robust and divergent debate in the party”.

She said she had held “frank and constructive” talks with the former deputy first minister.

Mr Swinney, 60, announced that he was putting his name forward as he gave a speech at an event in Edinburgh on Thursday morning.

It is widely expected that he will now win the leadership unopposed.

He told supporters: “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 her citizens.

“I want to unite the SNP and unite Scotland for independence.”

The former deputy first minister, who previously led the SNP between 2000 and 2004, said the party was not as "cohesive" as it should be but he could bring it "back together".

Mr Swinney - who questioned last year whether views expressed by Ms Forbes about gay marriage made her "appropriate" to be first minister - said he wanted her to play a "significant part" in his government if he becomes first minister.

He described her as a "colleague and friend".

“She is an intelligent, creative, thoughtful person who has much to contribute to our national life," Mr Swinney said.

“And if elected, I will make sure Kate is able to make that contribution.”

He told BBC Scotland News after his speech he had “always believed” Ms Forbes could made a significant contribution to the government, despite his criticism during the 2023 leadership contest.

An ally of Ms Forbes told BBC Scotland News that Mr Swinney would need to offer a “big job” in the cabinet to win her support.

'Not a caretaker'

Mr Swinney, who also pledged to deliver economic growth and social justice in Scotland, told the BBC’s Nicola Sturgeon podcast last year that he had been trying to stand down from government since 2016.

But he said he was repeatedly talked into staying by Ms Sturgeon.

At his campaign launch, Mr Swinney insisted he would not be an "interim leader" or a “caretaker" first minister and aimed to see out a full term should he win the leadership contest.

"I am offering to lead my party through the Westminster elections, to lead us beyond the 2026 elections, to contest, which I intend to win for the SNP and for Scotland,” he said.

He was backed by SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, deputy leader Keith Brown and cabinet ministers Neil Gray, Jenny Gilruth, Shirley-Anne Somerville and Mairi McAllan.

Ms McAllan introduced Mr Swinney at the launch event, describing him as a "steadfast" defender of Scotland's interests.

Cabinet ministers Angus Robertson and Fiona Hyslop also attended the campaign launch.

Ms Forbes, the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, narrowly lost to Mr Yousaf in the SNP leadership election last year, receiving 48% of the vote in the final round of the ballot.

She was criticised during the campaign for revealing she would have voted against gay marriage legislation had she been an MSP at the time due to her religious beliefs as a member of the Free Church of Scotland.

Mr Swinney, also a Christian, questioned whether it would be "appropriate" for someone with such views to become SNP leader.

Ms Forbes was backed to succeed Mr Yousaf by a smaller number of SNP colleagues than Mr Swinney, including those regularly at odds with the party leadership such as the MP Joanna Cherry and MSP Fergus Ewing.

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland's Drivetime programme on Wednesday, Mr Ewing urged Mr Swinney to retract his previous comments about Ms Forbes.

Timetable for change

Nominations for the SNP leadership close at noon on Monday.

In the now unlikely event that more than one candidate received 100 nominations from at least 20 local party branches, a ballot would be held among members to choose a new leader. The party said it would be concluded by 27 May.

Mr Yousaf announced earlier this week that he will resign as first minister once a new SNP leader is confirmed, which could be as soon as Monday if no other candidate comes forward.

At that point, parliament will have 28 days to nominate a new first minister to be appointed by the King.

If MSPs cannot reach an agreement after 28 days, a snap election would be called.

Mr Yousaf's resignation came after he scrapped the SNP's power-sharing deal with the Scottish Greens.

The SNP is now aiming to run a minority government in the Scottish Parliament - meaning it will need to rely on the support of opposition MSPs in order to pass legislation.

Responding to the announcement from Ms Forbes, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said she had agreed to an "stitch-up to install John Swinney as leader".

He added: “But this shady backroom deal won’t cover-up the bitter splits that exist within the SNP – it just applies a sticking plaster to a gaping wound."

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “The people of Scotland are crying out for change – but all the SNP is offering them is yesterday’s man in John Swinney."