John Swinney pledges to ‘give everything I have’ to new job as First Minister

The SNP leader won a vote that will see him become the seventh person to become First Minister since 1999.

John Swinney said it was an ‘extarordinary privilege’ to be Scotland’s new first minister
John Swinney said it was an ‘extarordinary privilege’ to be Scotland’s new first minister (Andrew Milligan/PA)

John Swinney said it was an “extraordinary privilege” to become Scotland’s new first minister as he  pledged to “give everything I have” to the role.

He spoke out after winning a vote at Holyrood that will see him become the seventh person to be first minister since the Scottish Parliament was established.

He is now expected to be formally sworn into the position on Wednesday.

Mr Swinney became the new leader of the SNP unopposed on Monday – with this happening a week after his predecessor Humza Yousaf announced he was stepping down after his decision to rip up the powersharing deal the party had with the Scottish Greens at Holyrood, leaving him facing a motion of no confidence in his leadership.

Faced with a vote he was unlikely to win, Mr Yousaf announced he would instead quit, formally tendering his resignation to the King on Tuesday.

In a vote at Holyrood, Mr Swinney won the backing of 64 MSPs, with his nearest rival Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross picking up 31.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar secured 22 votes, with the head of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Alex Cole-Hamilton, winning four.

The seven Scottish Green MSPs abstained.

With Mr Swinney leading a minority government at Holyrood, he will have to work with other parties to pass legislation and the Scottish Budget – and after the vote, he shook hands with opposition leaders in the chamber at the Scottish Parliament.

He did so after conceding he would need to “reach out to others to make things happen, to pass legislation, to agree a budget”.

Mr Swinney told the other parties at Holyrood: “If we want to fund our schools and hospitals, if we want to give our businesses a competitive edge, if we want to take climate action, if we want to eradicate child poverty, if we want to change people’s lives for the better, we have got to work together to do so.”

But he said he would “give all of my energy and my willingness” to achieve this, committing to be “the first minister for everyone in Scotland”.

Mr Swinney told Scots: “I am here to serve you. I will give everything I have to build the best future for our country.”

With his family watching from the gallery at Holyrood, he thanked his wife Elizabeth, who has multiple sclerosis, making clear his “profound eternal gratitude” to her for “the sacrifices she is prepared to make” so he could take on the job.

He told how it was “something of a surprise” to be the next first minister, as he had believed his time in government was over when he stepped down as deputy to Nicola Sturgeon last year.

Mr Swinney added: “It is however an extraordinary privilege and it is my honour to accept the office of first minister, committing myself to do the best I can for Scotland.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack congratulated Mr Swinney on his election, as he urged the new first minister to “prioritise the issues that really matter to people in Scotland, like improving failing public services and growing our economy”.

Mr Jack added: “I want him to work constructively with the UK Government on our joint projects to boost Scotland’s prosperity – including freeports, city deals and investment zones.

“Most of all, I hope that Mr Swinney will govern for the whole of Scotland. He needs to put aside his obsession with independence, and concentrate on contributing to a thriving Scotland within a strong United Kingdom.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the SNP had previously looked to the “extreme Greens” for policies, while at the same time “continuing the push for the same old tired campaign for independence and a referendum”.

Mr Ross said Mr Swinney must “swiftly change course” from that and “deliver a bold new policy agenda”.

He urged the new SNP leader to rule out “any agreement, by the backdoor or otherwise” with the Scottish Greens, with the Tory telling Mr Swinney: “If he wants to lead a government that represents the values of the clear majority of our country, he cannot be reliant on the Greens for his agenda.”

Urging him also to put independence “on the backburner”, Mr Ross continued: “The First Minister and his party must treat today as a reset moment – they must bring an end to a decade of division that has plagued our country since the 2014 referendum.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said Scotland needed a “change of direction” rather than just a change of leader.

Mr Sarwar said: “I hope we see a new approach from John Swinney, one that genuinely puts the national interest before party interest.”

Stressing the need to “get on with fixing the mess of the last 17 years” of SNP government, the Labour MSP added that “that change can only come with an election”.