Swinney urged to drop independence push and avoid new deal with Greens

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has written to the veteran MSP who is poised to become Scotland’s next first minister.

John Swinney looks likely to become the new leader of the SNP, and therefore first minister
John Swinney looks likely to become the new leader of the SNP, and therefore first minister (Jane Barlow/PA)

Presumptive SNP leader and first minister John Swinney has been urged by the Scottish Conservatives to drop his party’s push for independence and refuse to work with the Greens.

In a letter likely to get short shrift from the veteran MSP, Tory leader Douglas Ross pushed Mr Swinney to commit not to request the powers to hold another independence referendum for the entirety of his time in power if he becomes first minister.

The former deputy first minister looks set to take the top job after Kate Forbes – thought to be the only other realistic contender for the role – announced on Thursday she will not run.

Tory leader Douglas Ross wrote to John Swinney on Friday
Tory leader Douglas Ross wrote to John Swinney on Friday (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Ross’s letter – packed with inflammatory language including accusations of a “stitch up” for Mr Swinney to get the job – said: “As it appears that you have already won your party’s leadership contest, it is now essential that you set the right tone should you be elected as first minister next week, one which appeals to the whole of Scotland, not just SNP members.

“As such, you should make it inescapably clear that independence is no longer a priority for your Government.”

He goes on to push Mr Swinney to scrap the role of independence minister – currently held by Jamie Hepburn – as well as to cancel independence papers published by Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf, and not to request vote powers from Westminster.

Doing so, Mr Ross said, would “free up Government time and strategic direction to focus on the many failings in Government of the SNP over the past 17 years”.

Mr Ross also urged the potential future first minister to rule out a deal with the Scottish Greens, who he called “extreme” and “anti-economic growth”.

The SNP does not have a majority in Parliament and will likely need to look to other parties for support to pass legislation – not least to ensure its new leader is elected first minister.

Given the acrimony between parties at Holyrood, the pro-independence Greens seem the most likely party to work with the SNP.

But Mr Ross said Green MSPs should not be appointed as ministers – as had been the case under the Bute House Agreement – and he called on the Scottish Government to commit to support new oil and gas licences in the North Sea and to “major road upgrades”, such as dualling the A9 and A96.

A Green MSP has already said a new Bute House Agreement, or similar deal, is “very, very unlikely” to come to fruition under Mr Swinney.

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland on Friday, Gillian Mackay said: “I think the likelihood is that we will be engaging on an issue by issue basis with whoever it is that is in the first minister’s seat in the coming weeks.”

Mr Ross’s comments came after one of the most senior ministers in Humza Yousaf’s Government said SNP members do not want a repeat of the “bruising” leadership election of last year.

Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan, who introduced Mr Swinney at his campaign launch in Edinburgh on Thursday, said the Perthshire North MSP is the “right man” to unite the party.

It follows a tough week for the SNP at Holyrood, which began when Mr Yousaf abruptly ended the powersharing Bute House Agreement with the Greens and saw the fallout force him to resign after 13 months as First Minister.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Ms McAllan said: “There is a sense within the party that the last contest was a particularly bruising one, and I think there is absolutely a sense among members and activists that many of us would not wish to see that repeated.

“I think what the biggest deciding factor has been so far is the stature of John Swinney as somebody who has come forward.

“He is well loved and respected within our party, and I think, most importantly actually, he commands the trust and confidence of the people of Scotland, which we in the SNP know is exactly what is needed right now.”

The 2023 party leadership contest to replace Nicola Sturgeon saw Mr Yousaf, Ms Forbes and Ash Regan fight for the top job.

The contest saw the candidates take aim at each other’s record in government and their views on social issues.

A spokesman for Mr Swinney said: “If elected as first minister, Mr Swinney has committed to engaging in substantive and meaningful dialogue with all parties in the Scottish Parliament.

“No reasonable individual could conclude that Douglas Ross’s letter is an accurate assessment of the SNP’s record or a helpful contribution to public discourse.”