First Minister

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:00 pm on 7 May 2024.

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 3:00, 7 May 2024

The next item of business is the selection of the Parliament’s nominee as First Minister. A note explaining the procedures that will be followed this afternoon has been made available to members.

I have received four valid nominations for the selection of the Parliament’s nominee for First Minister, which I will now announce in alphabetical order. They are Alex Cole-Hamilton, Douglas Ross, Anas Sarwar and John Swinney. I will ask each nominee to speak in support of their candidacy for up to five minutes. There should be no interventions or interruptions.

After the nominees have spoken, members will be asked to cast their vote for their preferred candidate. A separate vote will be called for each candidate, and members can vote only once. Once all voting has been completed, any member who has not yet voted will be invited to cast a vote to abstain. There will be a short suspension while the result is verified, and I will then announce the results of voting.

A candidate will be elected if an overall majority is obtained. If no majority is obtained, the candidate or candidates with the smallest number of votes will be eliminated. I ask members to note that, if we have a vote between only two candidates, all that is required is a simple majority for one of the candidates to be elected. Members might wish to record an abstention; no account of those votes will be taken in establishing whether a simple majority has been achieved. We will then proceed to a further round of voting.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat 3:01, 7 May 2024

I offer my candidacy for the office of First Minister of Scotland. I do so because, although the governing party might have elected to forgo any democratic process to test the ideas or motivations of its candidate, I do not think that Parliament should.

I do this more in hope than in expectation, but that hope among Liberal Democrats is growing. That hope has been self-evident in last week’s English local election results, which saw us overhaul the Conservative Party for the first time in a generation; in Scottish opinion polls, which consistently show that support for us is growing significantly and that Parliament is set to receive many more Liberal MSPs; and in council election results the length and breadth of Scotland. The Liberal revival is well and truly under way.

As the outgoing First Minister just said, this week we commemorate a quarter century of our reconvened Scottish Parliament. In the weeks following his installation as Deputy First Minister in 1999, my predecessor as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats at that time, Jim Wallace, said:

“Government involves hard choices, and broad responsibilities, and there are inevitably times when the comfort zone of easy opposition beckons.”

I have spent enough time in opposition watching Government ministers make poor decisions that make the lives of our constituents poorer still, and so I stand today.

Those were simpler times. People could see their general practitioner at the first time of asking, and their dentist still offered national health service care. Scottish education was among the best in the world, and all the ferries worked. It was so much easier to rent somewhere to live or to buy a first home. Our economy was growing, and business thrived. However, for nearly 20 years, the Scottish National Party has been ignoring the people who do most of the heavy lifting in our society. People are working harder, but they feel as if they are falling further behind and are being taken for granted.

We need ministers who will not make empty promises, but who will get the basics right. We need new hope in our politics, and hope is at the heart of everything that the Scottish Liberal Democrats stand for. We want to create world-class mental health services by taxing the social media giants that cause so much of the problem. That will also help to get people faster access to their GP, and we will make sure that people can see an NHS dentist, too.

We will lift up Scottish education again by tackling the violence in our schools, with more teachers and more in-class support. We will reduce bills and tackle climate change by rolling out a national insulation programme, and we will get the Government-owned water company to clean up its act and stop filling our rivers and beaches with sewage.

We want to offer a fair deal for our communities by actually giving power away from politicians and back to local people. We want to answer the housing emergency by building more homes, encouraging investor confidence and answering the needs of tenants and homeowners alike, and we want to connect our communities with trains, buses and ferries that people can depend on.

When this Parliament was reconvened, some of the challenges that we now face would have seemed almost inconceivable—the climate emergency, the war in continental Europe, long Covid, cyberattacks on our health service and the insidious reach of abused technology. Those challenges require a response that is rooted not in the divisions of the past 17 years but in co-operation here and beyond our borders. That is why Liberal Democrats want to put Scotland at the heart of a reformed Britain and to fix our broken relationship with Europe.

The outcome of this election is already decided—I understand that—but if our relatively new democracy is about anything, it is about the exchange of ideas and competing visions of what our country can become. I humbly submit my candidacy for First Minister and, with it, a Liberal vision for the future of Scotland.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative 3:06, 7 May 2024

Presiding Officer,

“It seems pretty likely that the leader of the largest minority party in the Parliament, with the help of the fourth-largest minority party, will be successful in this afternoon’s election.”—[Official Report, 15 May 2003; c 30.]

Those are not my words but the words of John Swinney when he was last SNP leader and was seeking this Parliament’s support to elect him as First Minister. That was 21 years ago, in May 2003. They say that a week is a long time in politics, and the past seven days have shown us that, but it is interesting to see John Swinney back seeking the support of this Parliament more than two decades on from his previous attempt. However, today, I put my name forward once more for the position of First Minister, because it is past time that Scotland had a leader who is focused on the issues that really matter to our nation, and not another nationalist leader who is focused on the SNP’s narrow political interests.

When this Parliament was elected almost exactly three years ago, Scotland was still in the midst of the Covid pandemic. At that time, we all promised—each and every one of us—that we would put normal politics aside and focus on the national interest. Yet, before all the votes were even counted, the SNP had reverted to type and was claiming that the election was a mandate for independence. That set the tone for this parliamentary session. Gone was the golden opportunity to deliver transformative change for the people we are so privileged to serve. Instead, we have had three SNP leaders saying that independence was and is their priority, and using this chamber and the Scottish Government as vehicles to campaign for it.

It is abundantly clear that Scotland needs fresh leadership that is focused on the national interest, but the SNP has responded to calls for change by replacing one continuity candidate with another and by going backwards instead of forwards. That shows that the SNP cannot change and that it will be the same distracted nationalist Government, run by the same people, that we have seen for the past 17 years.

After a decade of division, we need to get back to the priorities of the Scottish people, and that is the platform on which I and the Scottish Conservatives are proud to stand. We stand today to represent the people’s priorities against an SNP Government that only ever puts independence first. We believe that Scotland can succeed now, but the SNP thinks that it can succeed only in some fantasy future. We think that the focus should be on the country’s big challenges, not on the SNP’s obsession with independence. We want to focus on improving our schools, not on the SNP’s plan to spend more money on promoting separation.

We believe that our NHS should be focused on clearing patient treatment backlogs, not pushing the SNP’s dangerous gender ideology on kids. We want free speech, not the SNP’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021. We want to upgrade key roads and fix potholes, not penalise drivers with the SNP’s workplace parking tax. We want to support 100,000 workers in Scotland’s oil and gas industry; the SNP wants to shut that sector down. We are standing up for rural Scotland while the SNP continues to pursue a centralisation agenda. We would protect local services and our councils; the SNP is stripping them of the powers and funding that they need. We want to make Scotland competitive within the United Kingdom, not punish families and businesses with SNP taxes. We want the country to unite for a stronger Scotland, not John Swinney’s slogan, which is to “Unite for independence”.

I am not expecting to be elected as First Minister today. We know that the SNP has done a backroom deal with the Greens to ensure that they abstain on the vote so that John Swinney will win. However, beyond the chamber, the Scottish people are watching.

Later this year, we will have a general election. In that election, Scottish Conservative candidates will stand across the country to beat the SNP and end its obsession with independence once and for all. We can see off John Swinney, just as we saw off Humza Yousaf, and get the focus on to the issues that really matter. If voters unite behind the Scottish Conservatives in key seats across Scotland, that is the opportunity for all of us.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour 3:11, 7 May 2024

Scotland needs a stable and competent Government. At a time when we face the twin challenges of the cost of living crisis, with families struggling to make ends meet, and an NHS crisis in which too many Scots are struggling to access life-saving NHS treatment, we need a Government that rises to those challenges—the biggest challenges since devolution.

Instead, we have an SNP Government that is proving to be incompetent, divided and chaotic. The change of SNP leader and First Minister has nothing to do with delivering for Scotland. This is all about managing internal divisions within the SNP and is nothing to do with running our country.

It has been a little over a year since we last met to elect a First Minister. Although the headlines will focus on the political personalities, it is worth reminding ourselves that incompetence has consequences and that the very failures that we raised last year are worse today. We need more than just platitudes, or promises of a different way of working, or a re-emphasis, with the Government pretending that its priorities are those of the people. We heard exactly the same thing last year, but Scots are experiencing even worse outcomes now than they were then.

Last year, we demanded action on the NHS crisis to bring down waiting lists. They are now longer, not shorter. Now, more than 820,000 Scots are stuck on NHS waiting lists.

Last year, we demanded action to tackle the record levels of homelessness. Today, that situation is worse, with almost 10,000 children living in temporary accommodation with no home to call their own.

Last year, we demanded action to tackle the appalling levels of drug deaths. However, suspected drug deaths have, shamefully, increased by 10 per cent since that time.

Last year, we demanded action to close the attainment gap in our education system. Today, we see increased violence in our schools and the continued decline of our once-great education system in international league tables.

For all that John Swinney and the SNP want to pretend that this is day 1 of a new Government, the hard fact is that, after 17 years of this SNP Government, there is not a single institution that is stronger. Every single one has become weaker, on the SNP’s watch.

I have no illusions about the outcome of today’s vote. Terrified of the electorate, the SNP will once again put its party’s interest before the national interest. However, I do not believe—and, more important, the public do not believe—that continuity will cut it or that chaos and incompetence are as good as it gets.

Let me quote John Swinney, from 2001. He said then:

“We meet this afternoon to elect a new First Minister—for the third time in ... this Parliament ... The third occasion is the result of a farce: a farce inflicted on Scotland and its Parliament by”

on this occasion, the SNP

“and by absolutely nobody else ... the party that now, without any democratic process, seeks to foist its unelected leader upon our country; the party that promotes its own by making cronyism a way of life—always lets Scotland down.

This afternoon, the farce may be carried to its illogical conclusion.”—[Official Report, 22 November 2001; c 4158-9.]

Given that that is what John Swinney’s view was then, why does he fear the judgment of the Scottish people today?

Now more than ever, our country needs credible and effective leadership. People need a Government that is on their side and is focused on creating jobs and lowering bills. They need a Government that will renew and repair our NHS, putting patients and staff first; a Government that is focused on building new homes and ending the housing emergency; a Government that will raise education standards and bring opportunities to every community; a Government that believes in economic growth and is willing to unlock the potential of every Scot to deliver it; and a Government of integrity that will restore trust and hope in our politics, and which rejects the politics of division and despair.

Scotland needs a First Minister who is focused on the future, rather than focused on defending a record of failure or focused on the past. Scotland needs a First Minister who knows that they are here in the service of the whole country, not just of their political party. Scotland needs a First Minister who genuinely wants to bring this country together to build a better nation, not to pit Scot against Scot.

I believe that change is possible. I believe that Scotland’s best days lie ahead of us. When the people finally get their say, I am determined that I will win their trust, win their support and deliver the change that Scotland needs.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 3:16, 7 May 2024

I am greatly honoured to be a nominee for First Minister of Scotland.

This year is a year of anniversaries for our new democracy. It is 25 years, as colleagues have said, since the establishment of this Parliament, and it is 10 years since the referendum on Scottish independence. It is a time to reflect but, more important, it is a time to look to the future. Both those democratic events were a result of growing demand from many people in Scotland for self-government. The extent of that self-government journey is still a matter of debate, but we are all sitting here today because a sizable majority believe that, in key aspects of Scottish life, it is better that decisions about Scotland be made here in Scotland.

The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats should take pride in having governed Scotland through the difficult early years of devolution, when much of the debate was about the cost of this building, rather than about what we could do with the powers that are invested in it. The Conservatives, under the leadership of Annabel—now Baroness—Goldie, can look back with great credit on the constructive way in which they often approached Opposition; they certainly helped me with a budget or two. The Scottish Greens have brought a distinctive voice to our politics, and they became the first Greens to serve in a Government in the United Kingdom.

My party, the SNP, has used the powers of this Parliament to abolish tuition fees and prescription charges. We have brought in a more progressive income tax system and we are, through the Scottish child payment, lifting children out of poverty. Indeed, the Scottish child payment has been hailed as the most significant measure to tackle child poverty anywhere in Europe in 40 years. In our national health service we have, despite its challenges, the best-performing core accident and emergency departments in the United Kingdom.

Policy and record are, of course, a matter of debate and contest, but there is something that I hope we can all agree on. I am proud that it was an SNP Government that was led by the first woman First Minister and then by the first Muslim First Minister. I pay tribute to Humza Yousaf—a man of unfailing courtesy who served my party, but also served this Parliament and his country, with distinction. When Humza Yousaf announced his resignation, he said this:

“To my colleagues in the opposition, regardless of political party, I genuinely do wish you well. I bear no ill-will and certainly bear no grudge against anyone.”

That is the dignified mark of a man whom I am proud to call a colleague and friend.

Throughout all the 25 years of the Parliament, I have been privileged to serve my constituents and the people of Scotland. Indeed, I was a little perturbed to see the following statement against my entry on the Parliament website this morning, under the heading “Previous roles”:

“John has had 22 previous roles”.

The old joke about giving a busy man more to do seems to be relevant at this moment. Under the heading “Parliamentary and Government Roles” the web page says, as of this morning:

“John does not have any parliamentary or government roles”.

It is that entry that I would like to change after this afternoon’s vote.

I hope that we can all recognise that, despite our political differences, we are all here because we want the best for Scotland, whatever our specific role happens to be. For me, it is with all my experience—but with much more than that—and with my burning ambition for a better future for this country that I am seeking to become First Minister.

The idea of ambition brings me to the second of this year’s anniversaries: the independence referendum of 2014. Both those who are against independence and those who are in favour of it deserve to be heard. Through dialogue, debate and deliberations, I believe that it is possible to argue our different positions respectfully.

For my part, I look at the years since 2014 and I see the impact of Brexit, the policy of UK austerity, the economic damage of the mini-budget, and the fact that wages in the UK have stagnated, that productivity is too low and that inequality is far too high. I look at the independent countries that are comparable to Scotland but are wealthier and are more equal than the UK, and it reinforces my core belief that Scottish self-government is the right way forward for Scotland.

Those of us who believe in independence do so because we believe that it will equip this Parliament with the powers that it needs to match the success of those comparable independent states. That, in turn, will mean more resources for our national health service and our public services, the opportunity to grow our economy free from a broken Westminster economic model, and the prospect of rejoining the European Union and escaping the damage of Brexit.

I recognise that, in all this, it is essential for a First Minister to listen to other people’s perspectives. That will, of course, be what I will do. That includes listening to the people who voted for a pro-independence Parliament in 2021 and to those who take a different view, and then engaging in the lifeblood of our democracy—persuasion that is based on evidence while respecting honest and honourable differences.

In that spirit—building on the achievements in Government, with a focus on the economy, our national health service and the public services, and on a drive to lift children out of poverty, through patient dialogue—I ask for the support of Parliament to become Scotland’s next First Minister.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Before we move to the vote, there will be a short suspension.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

We move to the vote. I remind members that they must vote once only and must use only their yes button in the voting app when voting. Once the voting for candidates is completed, members who have not voted for a candidate will be given the opportunity to vote to abstain by pressing their yes button.

I will announce the result once all votes have been cast and verified.

The first vote is for Alex Cole-Hamilton. Only members who wish to cast their vote for Alex Cole-Hamilton should take part in this vote, by voting yes. No other member should vote. Members who wish to vote for Alex Cole-Hamilton should vote yes now.

Members voted.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The vote is closed.

The next vote is for Douglas Ross. Only members who wish to cast their vote for Douglas Ross should take part in this vote, by voting yes. No other member should vote. Members who wish to vote for Douglas Ross should vote yes now.

Members voted.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The vote is closed.

The next vote is for Anas Sarwar. Only members who wish to cast their vote for Anas Sarwar should take part in this vote, by voting yes. No other members should vote. Members who wish to vote for Anas Sarwar should vote yes now.

Members voted.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The vote is closed.

The next vote is for John Swinney. Only members who wish to cast their vote for John Swinney should take part in this vote, by voting yes. No other members should vote. Members who wish to vote for John Swinney should vote yes now.

Members voted.

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My app would not load. I would have voted yes.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Thank you, Ms Gougeon. We will ensure that your vote is recorded.

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am not sure whether my vote went through—it has not come through on my app. I would have voted yes.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Thank you, Ms Haughey. I can confirm that your vote was recorded.

That concludes the votes for all candidates. The next vote is for any members who have not yet voted and who wish to record an abstention. Members who wish to abstain should press their yes button now.

Members voted.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The vote is closed.

That concludes this round of voting. There will now be a suspension while the votes are verified.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

In this round of voting in the selection of the Parliament’s nominee as First Minister, the number of votes cast for each candidate was: Alex Cole-Hamilton 4, Douglas Ross 31, Anas Sarwar 22, John Swinney 64. There were 7 abstentions.

Votes for Alex Cole-Hamilton

Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

McArthur, Liam (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)

Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Votes for Douglas Ross

Balfour, Jeremy (Lothian) (Con)

Briggs, Miles (Lothian) (Con)

Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)

Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

Dowey, Sharon (South Scotland) (Con)

Eagle, Tim (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Findlay, Russell (West Scotland) (Con)

Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Gallacher, Meghan (Central Scotland) (Con)

Golden, Maurice (North East Scotland) (Con)

Gosal, Pam (West Scotland) (Con)

Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)

Gulhane, Sandesh (Glasgow) (Con)

Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Hamilton, Rachael (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

Hoy, Craig (South Scotland) (Con)

Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)

Kerr, Stephen (Central Scotland) (Con)

Lumsden, Douglas (North East Scotland) (Con)

McCall, Roz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Mundell, Oliver (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

Ross, Douglas (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)

Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Webber, Sue (Lothian) (Con)

Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)

White, Tess (North East Scotland) (Con)

Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)

Votes for Anas Sarwar

Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Baker, Claire (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Bibby, Neil (West Scotland) (Lab)

Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)

Choudhury, Foysol (Lothian) (Lab)

Clark, Katy (West Scotland) (Lab)

Duncan-Glancy, Pam (Glasgow) (Lab)

Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Griffin, Mark (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Marra, Michael (North East Scotland) (Lab)

McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)

Mochan, Carol (South Scotland) (Lab)

O’Kane, Paul (West Scotland) (Lab)

Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)

Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)

Sweeney, Paul (Glasgow) (Lab)

Villalba, Mercedes (North East Scotland) (Lab) Proxy vote cast by Richard Leonard

Whitfield, Martin (South Scotland) (Lab)

Votes for John Swinney

Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

Adam, Karen (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

Adamson, Clare (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

Allan, Alasdair (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

Brown, Keith (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

Brown, Siobhian (Ayr) (SNP)

Callaghan, Stephanie (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

Constance, Angela (Almond Valley) (SNP)

Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)

Don, Natalie (Renfrewshire North and West) (SNP)

Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

Dornan, James (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

Dunbar, Jackie (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

Ewing, Fergus (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

Fairlie, Jim (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)

FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)

Forbes, Kate (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

Gougeon, Mairi (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)

Grahame, Christine (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

Gray, Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)

Harper, Emma (South Scotland) (SNP)

Haughey, Clare (Rutherglen) (SNP)

Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)

Hyslop, Fiona (Linlithgow) (SNP)

Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP)

MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

Matheson, Michael (Falkirk West) (SNP)

McAllan, Màiri (Clydesdale) (SNP)

McKee, Ivan (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)

McLennan, Paul (East Lothian) (SNP)

McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

McNair, Marie (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

Minto, Jenni (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

Nicoll, Audrey (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

Regan, Ash (Edinburgh Eastern) (Alba)

Robertson, Angus (Edinburgh Central) (SNP)

Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)

Roddick, Emma (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)

Stevenson, Collette (East Kilbride) (SNP)

Stewart, Kaukab (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)

Sturgeon, Nicola (Glasgow Southside) (SNP)

Swinney, John (Perthshire North) (SNP)

Thomson, Michelle (Falkirk East) (SNP)

Todd, Maree (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

Tweed, Evelyn (Stirling) (SNP)

Whitham, Elena (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)

Burgess, Ariane (Highlands and Islands) (Green) Chapman, Maggie (North East Scotland) (Green) Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green) Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green) Mackay, Gillian (Central Scotland) (Green) Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green) Slater, Lorna (Lothian) (Green)

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

There is an overall majority for John Swinney. On behalf of the Parliament, I congratulate Mr Swinney on being the Parliament’s nominee for the position of First Minister, and I look forward to working with him. I will now call each of the party leaders to respond.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative 3:39, 7 May 2024

I begin by congratulating John Swinney on his election as First Minister. The opportunity to lead the Scottish Government is the chance to serve every single person across our country, to give them the education that they deserve, to ensure that they can access the healthcare that they need, to keep them safe from crime and to help them to find the work that they need to provide for themselves and their families. That responsibility should not be taken lightly. Given his long career in Cabinet, I know that the First Minister will be acutely aware of the demands and that the decision to take up the role will not have been an easy one for him. I wish him well in taking on that burden.

I also want to say how rightly proud his family must be today. We all know the strain that elective office has on our families, but that is magnified tenfold when the politician holds the office of First Minister. On behalf of the Scottish Conservatives, I offer our strength and support to the entire Swinney family as they provide the personal backing that will be so important to our new First Minister. [ Applause .]

I now turn to the Government that the First Minister leads. It cannot serve just one side of the constitutional argument; it must deliver for the whole of Scotland. A Government acting in the national interest is what the Scottish people deserve, but the Scottish National Party has failed to deliver that during its time in office.

The legislative achievements of the current parliamentary session are few and far between. Instead, the SNP Government, having run out of its own ideas, increasingly looked for policy direction from the extreme Greens. At the same time, it was continuing to push the same old, tired campaign for independence and a referendum. John Swinney must swiftly change course and deliver a bold new policy agenda for the SNP Government instead of treading water in the same way as his predecessors. He should start by ruling out any agreement, by the back door or otherwise, with the Greens.

If the First Minister wants to lead a Government that represents the values of a clear majority of our country, he cannot be reliant on the Greens for his agenda. The SNP must reach beyond creating a nationalist coalition to compromise and find consensus within the Parliament. Key to delivering that would be putting the campaign for independence on the back burner. 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. With our education system at record lows in international rankings, one in seven Scots on a national health service waiting list, violent crime rising and our economy lagging behind that of the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland faces significant challenges that demand the SNP Government’s attention now.

In the 25th anniversary year of our Scottish Parliament, it is clear that the institution is not living up to its promise to change the lives of people across Scotland for the better. The new First Minister must focus the chamber and his Government on the issues that they were created to resolve.

Although today marks a new job for John Swinney, he has been at the heart of an SNP Government for the past 17 years. He was Alex Salmond’s finance secretary, Nicola Sturgeon’s deputy and Humza Yousaf’s most prominent supporter. He sat around the Cabinet table and rubber-stamped every single one of the policies that the Government enacted. Now, at long last and perhaps with some reluctance, he has a shot at the top job. We know the kind of Government minister that John Swinney has been, and we even know the kind of SNP leader that he has been, but John Swinney the First Minister remains unknown. Scotland waits to see whether he will be a nationalist leader like his predecessor or, as we in the Conservative Party hope, the national leader that Scotland needs to take our country forward. [ Applause .]

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour 3:44, 7 May 2024

On behalf of the Scottish Labour Party, I offer John Swinney my sincerest congratulations on being nominated as Scotland’s next First Minister. I know that this will be a moment of tremendous pride for him and his family, as well as the culmination of a long career of public service in which he has made many personal sacrifices. I wish him and his loved ones well and the very best in the weeks and months to come.

I am particularly pleased to see Mr Swinney’s wife, Elizabeth, and his family in the gallery today. We send them our best wishes and love. We choose to be in politics, but our families do not. It is often they who have to carry the heaviest burden and feel the most significant impact. As other members have said, we wish them all the very best for the future.

Our political disagreements are many, but we share a common purpose to make Scotland the best place in which to grow up and grow old. I note Mr Swinney’s comment that he will look to work across the chamber in a way that has, sadly, escaped his predecessors. We will continue to work constructively where we can and to promote the national interest. We believe in the principles of devolution and the consensus that we can try to build across our Parliament. However, it is important to note that the SNP has been one of the architects of divisive politics, so I question the rhetoric and the pretence of the SNP on now being the great unifiers of our nation.

I hope that we will finally do away with the use of words such as “traitors” and the default outrage and language of betrayal that has come from far too many ministers, let alone activists. I hope that this work can start immediately, so that we can move on and try to show the very best of Scotland.

As I said before, I fear that this election is more about managing the SNP than about delivering for Scotland. We need more than just a change of leader or a change in language; we need an acceptance of what has gone wrong and a change of direction. At this time of national crisis, people need a Government that is willing to lend a hand and support them, so that they do not feel abandoned by this Government or, indeed, the UK Government time and time again, with politicians putting party before the country.

The truth is that this internal stitch-up has delivered a continuity candidate who bears responsibility for much of the instability that we have seen. Let us not pretend that this is day 1 of a new SNP Government. We should not forget that John Swinney, as Deputy First Minister during the Covid pandemic, was responsible for deleting thousands of records and withholding evidence that was meant for the Covid inquiry. Yes, we need an end to the culture of secrecy and cover-up, but I fear that the SNP has elected to the highest office one of its champions.

We also need an end to the incompetence in managing our public services, but, instead, the SNP has elected as First Minister perhaps the worst education secretary in the history of our Parliament, because, in classrooms across the country, violence is on the rise, teachers feel unsupported and pupils are being failed by our Government, and they do not feel that ministers have the same ambitions as they do. On the 25th anniversary of devolution, the SNP has chosen as First Minister the finance secretary who decimated local government and sucked up power to Holyrood, decimating local services as a result.

I hope that we see a new approach from John Swinney—one that genuinely puts the national interest before party interest. The promise that we make is that we will work constructively to achieve the best for Scotland and its people. However, to put it bluntly, continuity will not cut it. We cannot afford more distracted, divided and incompetent Government. We need to get on with fixing the mess of the past 17 years and get on to delivering for the people of Scotland.

Of course, I wish the First Minister well for the future, but he must recognise that the public are crying out for change. That change can come only with an election, and I cannot wait to get on with the job of delivering for the people of Scotland.

Photo of Lorna Slater Lorna Slater Green 3:48, 7 May 2024

I congratulate John Swinney on behalf of myself and the Scottish Green group. We recognise the right of the SNP, as the largest party in this chamber, to form a Government, and we are content, in the spirit of stable governance, that it has managed to do so.

The Scottish Greens have worked constructively with John Swinney over many years, both as partners in Government and from the Opposition benches, and we look forward to building a similarly constructive relationship as he takes up the role of First Minister. However, our explicit support for an SNP First Minister has always been conditional on a shared vision and policy programme—one that tackles the climate crisis head on, builds a fairer and more equal future, and continues to make the case for an independent Scotland. The new First Minister has yet to lay out the vision for his new Government, hence our group’s abstention in the vote today.

I am proud of what the Scottish Greens achieved during our time in Government, lifting 100,000 children out of poverty, delivering free bus travel for young people, banning new incinerators and the most polluting single-use plastics and putting in place emergency rent controls during the cost of living crisis.

Those things are already making people’s lives better, thanks to the Scottish Greens, but much work is yet to be completed. We had just introduced the Housing (Scotland) Bill, which creates new rights for tenants and a permanent system of rent controls. Our heat in buildings programme, which was transforming the way we heat our homes to drive down emissions and give everyone a warm home that they can afford to heat, has been billed by the Climate Change Committee as a template for the rest of the UK. The process to designate Scotland’s new national park was well under way, driving investment into rural communities. The proposed natural environment bill would have created new protections and legislative tools to help restore nature in Scotland and we would have brought in a watertight ban on conversion therapy to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society.

All those remain priorities for the Scottish Greens and we will continue advocating for the fairer, greener and more equal Scotland that they create. In the coming days and weeks, the First Minister must lay out whether his Government will continue those progressive policies, as well as meeting the recent commitment to ramp up action on the climate emergency, or whether he will retreat to the middle ground and rely on the Tories and other pro-union parties to complete the work of Government.

If our parties can continue working towards a shared vision of a fair, progressive and independent Scotland that takes its responsibility to future generations seriously, our door remains open. The Scottish Greens will keep working with courage and determination for a better future and I hope that the new Scottish Government will do so, too.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat 3:52, 7 May 2024

On behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, I offer John Swinney our sincere congratulations on his appointment as nominee for First Minister. I also record our thanks, as others have done, to his family in particular for the sacrifice that this nation is now asking of them. I know that that consideration weighed heavily on his mind as he made the decision to stand.

Before I talk in more detail about what comes next and about the challenges that will befall our new First Minister, I thank Humza Yousaf for his service. I wish the outgoing First Minister, Nadia and their family well, particularly as they await a new arrival to the family. Politics can be a bruising business: you win some, you lose some. Anyone in any elected position has to offer their ideas, character and values up for scrutiny and public debate, which can be tough. We need our loved ones around us in those moments, which is why I liked knowing that, on the night of his resignation, Humza Yousaf’s reaction was to go straight home and read bedtime stories to his children. Those precious moments help to provide perspective at the end of a hard day. The story reminded me of the Humza Yousaf I first met 12 years ago, when I was a youth worker, and I sincerely wish him well. I am also in the market for tips on how to deal with Tavish Scott.

When he relinquished the reins of the SNP leadership 20 years ago, John Swinney did not know that his party was on the threshold of power. Today, as he picks those reins up again, he may not know, or may choose not to believe, what I believe, which is that the SNP now stands on the threshold of defeat. He has come full circle. I genuinely hope that, in the time that he has, he can make a positive impact on the public services on which we all rely, that he can bring growth back to our economy and that his Government can get the basics right.

I say that because I love my country and want the best for it. Every day from 2004 to 2024, John Swinney has been party to and complicit in every significant decision taken by SNP high command or around the Scottish Government cabinet table. The SNP’s record in Government is John Swinney’s record in Government and I am not sure that fair-minded people will be convinced that, after 17 years, that Government has the fresh ideas and vision needed to move Scotland forward. It appears to be business as usual when it comes to independence, even though the circumstances under which the SNP once again wishes to press that divisive agenda could not be less forgiving.

I want to welcome, though, John Swinney’s commitment to striking a more consensual tone. In a Parliament that has been too divided in recent years, I am confident that there will be areas in which we can find common ground, but my party will also continue to hold the Government to account where it falls short.

First and foremost, I would like the new First Minister to overhaul the Government’s approach to transparency and record keeping, because the pandemic further exposed the culture of secrecy that has existed throughout the Scottish Government. The work of the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries has been made harder by the deletion of evidence, which Anas Sarwar referenced. John Swinney now has the power to change that culture. He also has the power to drop the ministerial takeover of social care, put that money towards services and staff and unlock the crisis in our health service. He can give councils the power surge that they need to deliver locally and improve outdated standards that see sewage dumped in our rivers.

As John Swinney was the finance secretary for many years, I am sure that tax and spend will also be at the front of his mind. We have just learned that the Scottish Government’s medium-term financial strategy will be delayed, and there will also be delays to the draft tax strategy and the infrastructure plan. We need those long-term visions now, because taxpayers and businesses have no idea what will happen next. That is not a conducive environment for growth and it will not give people the confidence to invest here.

John Swinney may have arrived here with some reluctance, but he is Scotland’s new First Minister. I accept that and I congratulate him. He is known as a deal maker, but the enmity that now exists across the chamber will make the paralysis that gripped Scottish politics last week all the more likely. When that happens in our democracy, the best way forward is to go back to the people who sent us to this place and ask them for new instructions in the form of a Scottish parliamentary election. I appreciate that he has ruled that out, but our votes will remain available towards the dissolution of this place and that end.

We will always look for consensus where we can find it on the priorities of our party and those who sent us here—a renewed focus on net zero, ready access to GP services at the first time of asking, and NHS dentistry. On all those issues, which have been crying out for ministerial attention, we will lay aside our differences where we can. I conclude by offering John Swinney the hearty congratulations of my party.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 3:57, 7 May 2024

I am very grateful to Douglas Ross, Anas Sarwar, Lorna Slater and Alex Cole-Hamilton for their kind comments this afternoon, especially in relation to the support of my family.

When I stood down as Deputy First Minister in March last year, I believed that that would be the last senior office that I would hold in politics. Having then served as a senior minister for 16 years, I felt that I had, to coin a phrase, done my bit. To find myself accepting office as First Minister of Scotland today is, therefore—to utter a classic understatement—something of a surprise. It is, however, an extraordinary privilege and it is my honour to accept the office of First Minister, committing myself to doing the best that I can for Scotland.

As I navigated my way through the media pack in the corridors of this Parliament last week, prior to announcing my candidacy for the SNP leadership, I tried to explain that I was taking my time to decide whether to stand because I had to be certain that the decision was right for my family. For me, my answers to the media were not a stalling tactic or an evasive answer from an experienced politician. For me, it was the truth.

Members will know that my wife, Elizabeth, has multiple sclerosis. She is indefatigable in trying to make sure that MS does not get in the way of her living life to the full but, much to her frustration, she often has to rely on her husband for support and assistance. I could not just commit myself to becoming First Minister without being able to properly work out with my family how we would be able to manage as a family. We have talked that through and we will manage, but I cannot let this moment pass without making clear to Elizabeth my profound, eternal gratitude for the sacrifices that she is prepared to make to enable her husband to serve our country as First Minister. [ Applause .]

I am so pleased that my father, my wife and children, members of my family and our dearest friends are able to be here today to see this moment. My only regret is that my beloved mother did not live long enough to see this day. As her parish minister wrote to me yesterday,

“Your mum would have been—quietly—proud.”

My mother’s love of literature and poetry, which rubbed off on her two sons, would have prompted her to find some words to sum up this moment. Yesterday, I was asked what the single most important policy objective would be for my Government. I made it clear that it would be the eradication of child poverty. In searching for words to sum up this occasion, therefore, perhaps my mother would have chosen these, which are from one of Scotland’s greatest poets: Hamish Henderson, who was born in Blairgowrie, in the very beating heart of my Perthshire North constituency. In his epic anthem, “The Freedom Come-All-Ye”, which I heard him sing in the early 1990s from an open-top bus in the Meadows of our great capital city, during a rally that demanded the establishment of this very Parliament, Hamish Henderson wrote:

“So come all ye at hame wi’ Freedom,

Never heed whit the hoodies croak for doom.

In your hoose a’ the bairns o’ Adam

Can find breid, barley-bree and painted room.”

If there was ever an anthem that railed against child poverty, those words from Hamish Henderson echo through the straths and streets of our diverse country as a call for us to act. I will therefore be unapologetic about bringing to the Parliament measures that we can take to eradicate child poverty, and I look forward to seeking the support of others to achieve that aim, because I recognise that that is how it is going to have to work. I am leading a minority Government and I will need to reach out to others to make things happen—to pass legislation and to agree a budget. To “pass legislation” and “agree a budget” sound like dry and technical parliamentary terms. However, in reality, they mean that, to fund our schools and hospitals, give our businesses a competitive edge, take climate action, eradicate child poverty and change people’s lives for the better, we will have to work together.

As colleagues have—fairly—recognised, the Parliament is intensely polarised at this time. I accept my part in creating that environment, whether by shouting put-downs from the front bench or heckling from a sedentary position. I promise that that will all stop. I have changed. [ Laughter .] Perhaps time will tell on that one.

This is not the collaborative place that it has been in the past—a collaborative place that has done so much good to improve the lives of people in Scotland. As the Parliament marks its 25-year anniversary and as one of the relatively small group of members who have been here from the start, I reflect on the major developments that have taken place through collaborative work and agreement over that time: for example, the ban on smoking in public places, which was taken forward by the Labour and Liberal Executive; minimum unit pricing, by the SNP Government; and the introduction of free bus travel for the under-22s, by the SNP-Green partnership. I commit my Government to working to create such agreement across the chamber. I hope that there is space and willingness for that to happen, in the interests of the people who sent us here.

It is hardly a surprise to anyone in the chamber that I believe that this country could do more if we had the powers of a normal, independent nation. Others in the chamber take the opposite view. That is the essence of democracy—that people are free to hold, express and pursue different opinions. The question that we face in the Parliament today, however, is the more practical one of whether our disagreement on the constitution prevents us from working collaboratively within the existing powers of the Parliament to eradicate child poverty, build the economy, support jobs, address the cost of living crisis, improve the health service and tackle the climate crisis. I will give all my energy and willingness to engage and listen in order to ensure that that is not the case, and I invite others to do the same.

When I pitched up at Forrester high school in this city in 1979 at the age of 15 wearing my SNP badge, and my friends and teachers wondered why I had become involved in this fringe party, I could scarcely have imagined that my journey would involve becoming the First Minister of Scotland. It is an extraordinary privilege to hold this office, and I thank Parliament warmly for the honour that has been given to me.

To the people of Scotland, I say simply this: I offer myself to be the First Minister for everyone in Scotland. I am here to serve you. I will give everything that I have to build the best future for our country. [ Applause. ]

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The concludes the selection of First Minister.