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Swinney set to be Scotland’s new leader

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LONDON: Scotland’s likely next leader John Swinney is a political veteran who will have to unify his fractured separatist party and revitalise its flagging independence movement.

The 60-year-old belongs to the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) old guard, and is an ally of tarnished ex-first minister Nicola Sturgeon, whom he loyally served as deputy for a record nine years.

Swinney is viewed as a calm head capable of stabilising Scotland’s ruling party following 39-year-old Humza Yousaf’s turbulent leadership and repairing its broken relationship with former power-sharing partners the Greens.

But detractors say Swinney — who has led the party before — represents more of the same, and is damaged by his defence of former boss Sturgeon, who was arrested in an ongoing party finances scandal.

“He could hardly be closer to the now discredited Sturgeon leadership so distancing himself from that will be a challenge,” politics professor James Mitchell, of Edinburgh University, said.

“(But) Swinney is the ultimate party man, loyal to a fault. He is very well liked in the SNP because of this.” Born in Edinburgh in April 1964, Swinney joined the SNP when he was 15, quickly rising through its ranks and becoming national secretary in the mid-1980s. He first became a lawmaker in 1997 when he was elected to the UK parliament in London to represent a constituency in Tayside, in the heart of Scotland.

Two years later, he was elected to Scotland’s regional parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh when it was re-established after more than 300 years, with Labour at the helm. Swinney first became SNP leader in September 2000 following the departure of Alex Salmond.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2024

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