Swinney urges voters 'to put Scotland's interests first'

John Swinney has urged people to "vote SNP to put Scotland's interests first" as he formally launched the party's general election campaign.

Mr Swinney told activists and candidates at a rally in Glasgow that Westminster decision-making had meant "austerity, Brexit and a cost of living crisis being imposed on Scotland".

Scotland's first minister stressed his belief in independence as a way to ensure decisions about Scotland are made in Scotland.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said John Swinney's "relaunch of a shambolic campaign" proved he was more interested in his party than the people.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross accused Mr Swinney of "pandering to his Nationalist base and pitting Scot against Scot in a bid to break up the UK".

Meanwhile, Scottish Lib Dems leader Alex Cole-Hamilton also criticised the SNP's continued push for a second independence referendum - insisting voters simply "don't care".

Anas Sarwar
Anas Sarwar described the SNP campaign as shambolic [BBC]

However, Mr Swinney has called on the public to back his party's indy stance in the 4 July general election and use the vote as a direct way to remove the Conservatives from government.

He said: "A combination of Westminster cuts and Brexit has reduced the money available for the NHS, other public services and housing.

"Brexit alone has wiped billions from the Scottish economy compared with EU membership. And it's pushed up food and other household costs.

"Given the UK is moving so badly in the wrong direction I would be failing in my duty if I did not set out what I believe is a better future for Scotland."

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Following his election as first minister last month, Mr Swinney called for more respect to be shown in Scottish politics.

Looking ahead to the UK-wide general election, he said he believes in "the politics of persuasion or, if that's not possible, respectful disagreement".

He told those at the rally that "in our wonderful, diverse, inspiring country" everyone should have a chance to get on in life.

"It's why I believe so strongly in eradicating child poverty," the first minister will say.

"At this election it is those principles that will guide my approach. So I am asking people to vote SNP to remove the Tories from government.

"I'm asking people to vote SNP to put Scotland's interests first. I'm asking people to vote for a future made in Scotland, for Scotland."

Mr Swinney also highlighted what the he said the SNP had achieved in government, including:

  • free prescriptions

  • the abolition of university tuition fees

  • free bus travel for under-22s

  • the Scottish Child Payment

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Analysis by Phil Sim, BBC Scotland political correspondent

John Swinney’s calculation is that a Labour win is already priced in for many in this election.

At his launch event, he predicted that “the Tories are on course for a huge defeat, a wipeout”.

The pitch is that the Tories are toast anyway, and Labour will have a big majority - so Scots don’t actually need to vote for Labour to achieve that. Indeed, he says they should vote for the SNP to keep Labour honest - to hold their feet to the fire.

He’s painting them as already being complacent - “they think Scotland is in the bag”.

The question is whether this message - that people can have a Labour government without actually voting Labour - will cut through with voters, compared to the rather more straightforward “change” narrative Sir Keir Starmer is selling.

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Speaking on BBC Scotland's The Sunday Show, Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole- Hamilton said his party was not talking about independence during this campaign "because literally no-one on the doorsteps is talking about it - they don’t care".

He added: "We don’t believe there should be a second referendum – it’s not salient to people right now.

"People want to talk about getting access to a GP at the first time of asking, or NHS dentists in their locality.

"They want to talk about taking the sewage out of our rivers and lifting up Scottish education to where it used to be."

'Journey together'

Speaking on the campaign trail in Renfrew, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the SNP had spent the entire campaign so far attacking Labour when the real opportunity was to "get rid of this rotten Tory government".

He said: "That’s what we’re focused on – getting rid of Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman and the whole, rotten lot of them.

"People across Scotland realise after 14 years of corruption, chaos, lies and sleaze from the Conservative party that this is Scotland’s opportunity to get rid of them. And the only way we do that is if we elect a UK Labour government."

Mr Sarwar said he was confident previous SNP supporters would switch to Labour on 4 July.

"I don’t care how you voted in the past. I don’t care how you voted in the referendum. I don’t care how you would possibly vote in future referendums.

"What I care about just now is getting rid of this rotten Tory government, so let’s go on this part of the journey together and change our country."

Douglas Ross
Douglas Ross accused John Swinney of putting party before country [BBC]

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said Mr Swinney had made "a desperate attempt" to relaunch the SNP’s election campaign "in the wake of his shameful mishandling of the Michael Matheson scandal".

Mr Matheson - a former health secretary - was last week handed a record ban from parliament for breaching Holyrood's expenses policy.

And police are now assessing a new complaint over the SNP MSP's £11,000 iPad data roaming bill.

Douglas Ross said: “Predictably, he (Mr Swinney) used it to double down on the SNP’s independence obsession, instead of focusing on the people’s real priorities – fixing our ailing public services and growing the economy.

“As he showed in the Matheson scandal, John Swinney will always put party before country."

Mr Ross added: “Voters who have had enough of SNP incompetence and their endless sowing of division have the chance to punish them on July 4.

"In key seats across the country, only the Scottish Conservatives can beat the SNP and move the focus on to the issues that really matter.”