Swinney ‘considering’ running to be next SNP leader as Yousaf quits

John Swinney has said he is giving “very careful consideration” to standing to be the next leader of the SNP in the wake of Humza Yousaf’s emotional resignation.

Mr Yousaf had been facing two votes of no confidence in the Scottish Parliament as a result of his decision to terminate the powersharing deal that the SNP had with the Scottish Greens.

But before those votes could take place, he announced he would stepping down from the post he said he had been “blessed” to have.

Just 90 minutes later, Mr Swinney, who served as Scottish deputy first minister for eight years under Mr Yousaf’s predecessor Nicola Surgeon, said he was giving “active consideration” to running for the job.

Senior figures within the SNP, including long-serving MP Pete Wishart, former Westminster leader Ian Blackford, current Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, and fellow MP Alyn Smith, have all called on him to stand.

Speaking in London, where he had been for an event to mark the upcoming 25th anniversary of devolution, he said he had had “many, many messages from colleagues across the party”.

He added he was “giving that issue very active consideration” with Mr Swinney stating: “It is likely I will have more to say about that in the days to come.”

But he also said: “I have to do the right thing by my party and my country. So there is lots to be thought about.”

His comments came after Mr Yousaf announced his decision to step down as SNP leader and Scottish First Minister – though he said he would stay on in the post until a successor was found.

Scottish Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth, who had been suggested by some as a possible successor to Mr Yousaf, said that the former deputy first minster was “the best choice” to be the next first minister and SNP leader.

“I will be strongly supporting him if, as I hope, he chooses to run,” she said

Mr Wishart meanwhile said that Mr Swinney “would be an excellent unifier for our country and our party”.

Mr Swinney is the “cool, calm head” the public deserve, Mr Flynn said, with a record in politics “unsurpassed in many respects”.

Whoever takes on the role is likely to have to find a way to work with the Scottish Greens at Holyrood, with Mr Yousaf admitting he had “clearly underestimated the level of hurt and upset” he had caused when he ended the powersharing deal between the two parties.

Until last week, the Scottish Greens had been part of the Scottish Government, with co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater holding ministerial roles.

That was ended on Thursday, however, when tensions between the two parties came to a head and Mr Yousaf ended the deal, with immediate effect.

The ending of that agreement left Mr Yousaf facing two votes of no confidence – one in him as first minister and one in his Government as a whole.

After spending the weekend contemplating his options, he announced he would be stepping down.

But with an arrangement with Alba, led by Alex Salmond, unpalatable to many within the SNP, Mr Yousaf said he was not willing to “do deals with whomever simply for retaining power”.

Instead, he appealed to opposition leaders at Holyrood to “collaborate” with the SNP as they seek to run a minority administration under a new leader.

He had hoped to have a “less formal arrangement” with the Greens – who have seven MSPs at Holyrood –  but he acknowledged: “Unfortunately, in ending the Bute House Agreement in the manner I did, I clearly underestimated the level of hurt and upset I caused Green colleagues.”

Scotland power sharing agreement
Humza Yousaf leaves with his wife, Nadia El-Nakla, after announcing he is standing down as first minister (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“Politics can be a brutal business. It takes its toll on your physical and mental health, your family suffer along side you.”

He became emotional as he paid tribute to his “wonderful wife” and “beautiful children”, telling his family: “You are truly everything to me.”

He added: “And although, as you can tell, I am sad my time as first minister is ending, I am so grateful and so blessed for having the opportunity afforded to so few, to lead my country.”

The announcement of his resignation comes exactly 13 months after Mr Yousaf was sworn in as Scotland’s sixth first minister – at the time becoming the youngest person and the first person from a minority background to hold the post.

He said that when he was growing up he “could never have dreamt that one day I would have the privilege of leading my country”.

Mr Yousaf said: “People who looked like me were not in positions of political influence, let alone leading governments when I was younger.”

Afterwards, Ms Sturgeon said: “I know how big a privilege being first minister is, but also the toll it can take. I also know what a wrench it is to step aside, even when sure it is the right thing to do.

“Humza has conducted himself with grace, dignity and integrity – both as FM and in the manner of his leaving. I am and always will be proud to call him a friend.”

Labour retains a narrow lead over the SNP in Westminster voting intention of 34% to 33%, according to the latest YouGov poll carried out in Scotland.

The poll of 1,043 Scots aged over 16 was carried out between Friday and Monday and found 55% of respondents wanted Mr Yousaf removed as First Minister, including 40% of 2019 SNP voters.

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