John Swinney Looks Likely to Be Scotland’s Next First Minister

Just days after Scotland’s first minister, Humza Yousaf, announced his resignation, one of his party’s most experienced politicians, John Swinney, emerged on Thursday as his likely successor after the most prominent potential challenger pulled out of the race.

Mr. Swinney, 60, is a former leader of Mr. Yousaf’s Scottish National Party, and presents himself as the unity candidate for a party that has been in a state of crisis since the departure last year of the previous first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, once one of Britain’s most popular politicians.

That crisis reached a new level of urgency this week when Mr. Yousaf terminated a coalition agreement with another party that campaigns for Scottish independence, the Scottish Greens, only to find himself facing two confidence votes he risked losing. On Monday, he said he would step down as soon as a replacement was chosen.

For much of the past year, the S.N.P. has been enduring the fallout of a police investigation into the handling of funds it raised for a future referendum campaign.

Ms. Sturgeon was arrested and questioned last year but has not been charged with any offense. Her husband, Peter Murrell, a longtime chief executive of the party, was charged last month with embezzlement.

In the race to succeed Mr. Yousaf, Mr. Swinney is seen as a continuity candidate. He has previously served as deputy first minister, and he had already been endorsed by several senior colleagues before his formal declaration on Thursday that he would run.

A few hours later he received a huge boost when Kate Forbes, a former finance secretary who was seen as his main rival, announced that she would not run for the leadership and would instead support Mr. Swinney.

While more candidates could come forward before a deadline on Monday, it is highly unlikely that anyone could challenge Mr. Swinney, given that he now has the backing of Ms. Forbes as well as other senior figures.

In a statement posted on social media, Ms. Forbes said that she had held talks with Mr. Swinney, that he was “determined to return the S.N.P. to governing from the mainstream” and that, for her, “the best way to deliver the urgent change Scotland needs is to join with John Swinney.”

Ms. Forbes was the runner-up in last year’s contest to succeed Ms. Sturgeon, but her socially conservative Christian views — including her opposition to gay marriage — came under attack from some on the party’s progressive wing.

Although the S.N.P. has the most seats in the Scottish Parliament, it does not hold an overall majority, so Mr. Yousaf’s successor will be trying to lead a minority government.

On Thursday, Mr. Swinney suggested that Ms. Forbes could expect a senior position under his leadership. “I will be very happy to work with Kate Forbes,” he said at a news conference. “There is a place for Kate in the team that I want to take forward.”

Critics of Mr. Swinney portray him as a political throwback, saying that the last time he was party leader — from 2000 to 2004 — he quit after a poor set of election results. His supporters counter that he is slightly younger than Keir Starmer, the leader of Labour — Britain’s main opposition party, which is also the S.N.P.’s chief competitor in Scotland.

On Thursday, Mr. Swinney rejected accusations that he would be a stopgap leader, saying that he would be neither an “interim leader” nor a political caretaker.

“I’ve got a pretty formidable electoral track record,” he said at the news conference. “I’m the longest-serving parliamentarian in Scotland. I’ve won every single election I have contested with my name on the ballot paper since 1997.”

Political adversaries were unimpressed. Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said that Ms. Forbes had “caved into S.N.P. demands for a stitch-up” to avoid “the blood bath of another leadership contest.”

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