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John Swinney appointed as the new First Minister in Scotland

Humza Yousaf resigned as First Minister on Tuesday 7 May, paving the way for John Swinney to step in to the top position. He was confirmed in the job on Tuesday after a vote in the Scottish Parliament. He becomes the third First Minister in just over a year and his elevation may mark the beginning of the end for the SNP in government, the party having held power for the last 17 years.

Mr Swinney was uncontested for the role of Leader of the SNP after Kate Forbes confirmed last week that she was not standing. Instead, she will likely fill a top position in Mr Swinney’s cabinet. Over the weekend of 4-5 May, there were rumours that the SNP party activist Graeme McCormick was vying for a leadership bid after he claimed to have secured the 100 signatures required to mount a challenge. Ultimately, however, he chose to endorse Mr Swinney after what he described as a “lengthy and fruitful conversation”.

John Swinney joined the SNP at the age of 15 years old and is the MSP for Perthshire North. He has promised to unite and bring stability to the party as it prepares for the UK general election expected later this year.

During his leadership of the SNP from 2000 to 2004, Mr Swinney chose to push independence to the forefront of the party manifesto. However, poor results in the European elections signalled the beginning of the end for Mr Swinney and he was forced to resign. Following a number of senior roles in the party, including as Deputy FM, he is now back in the top position as leader of the SNP and First Minister.

What does a change in leader mean for rural policies?

Mr Swinney has declared that he will not seek to re-enter coalition with the Greens and it has been suggested that he wants to move away from some of the policies it advocated, but he has an uphill battle to persuade people living in rural Scotland that his SNP minority government will champion their causes.

Since the collapse of the Bute House Agreement there have been calls for a more balanced approach and policies that work with rural communities, rather than against them. The disastrous Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) is one such example, with coastal communities likening the strategy to the Highland Clearances. This policy would have effectively decimated the fishing and marine industries in these areas and caused hundreds of job losses, leading to depopulation. Thankfully HPMAs were “not progressed” by the SNP-Green administration, but the case should serve as a reminder to the new First Minister that Scotland’s rural communities will fight back when their livelihoods and way of life are threatened.

The “ban” on wood burning stoves in new-build homes is yet another example of a centralised government policy that ignores the needs of rural areas. The Scottish Conservatives have petitioned for this issue to be debated in parliament on the 29 May, and they hope to force the government to rethink this “ban”.

Representing Perthshire, John Swinney should have a solid understanding of rural matters and may be supportive on issues affecting people living in these communities. He has an uphill battle leading a minority government and likely will still require support from the Greens. He needs to build bridges with those who live and work in the countryside after the recent, devastating rural legislation his party has introduced. He speaks of collaborative working from here on in: we will see.

We wait to see if his leadership will stand up to scrutiny as he chooses his Cabinet today.

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