John Ramsay Swinney (born 13 April 1964) is a Scottish politician currently serving as Deputy First Minister of Scotland since 2014 and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery since 2021. He is a member of the Scottish National Party (SNP). He served as Finance Secretary from 2007 to 2016 and as Education Secretary from 2016 to 2021. Swinney has also served as the Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for Perthshire North since 2011, having previously represented North Tayside from 1999 to 2011.
|Deputy First Minister of Scotland|
|Assumed office |
21 November 2014
|First Minister||Nicola Sturgeon|
|Preceded by||Nicola Sturgeon|
|Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery|
|Assumed office |
20 May 2021
|First Minister||Nicola Sturgeon|
|Preceded by||Office established|
|Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills|
18 May 2016 – 20 May 2021
|First Minister||Nicola Sturgeon|
|Preceded by||Angela Constance|
|Succeeded by||Shirley-Anne Somerville|
|Cabinet Secretary for Finance, |
Constitution and Economy
17 May 2007 – 18 May 2016
|First Minister||Alex Salmond|
|Preceded by||Tom McCabe|
|Succeeded by||Derek Mackay|
John Ramsay Swinney
13 April 1964
|Political party||Scottish National Party|
(m. 1991; div. 1998)
|Relatives||Tom Hunter VC (uncle)|
|Alma mater||University of Edinburgh|
Swinney served in the British House of Commons as Member of Parliament for Tayside North from 1997 to 2001. After Alex Salmond resigned the leadership in 2000, Swinney was elected Leader of the Scottish National Party in the ensuring leadership election. He became Leader of the Opposition in the Scottish Parliament. Swinney's leadership proved ineffectual, with a loss of one MP in 2001 and a further reduction to 27 MSPs in 2003 despite the Officegate scandal unseating previous First Minister Henry McLeish. However, the only parties to gain seats in that election where the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) which, like the SNP, support independence. After an unsuccessful leadership challenge in 2003, Swinney stepped down following disappointing results in the 2004 European Parliament election with Salmond returning to the role in the subsequent 2004 leadership contest.
The SNP won the highest number of seats in the Scottish Parliament in the 2007 election and Salmond was subsequently appointed First Minister. Swinney served under Salmond as Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth from 2007 to 2014. After Nicola Sturgeon succeeded Salmond, she appointed Swinney as Deputy First Minister of Scotland in 2014. He also served as Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Economy, until that role was divided into two posts in the second Sturgeon government as a result of the expansion of the Scottish Parliament's financial powers; he was then appointed Education Secretary in 2016, and then as Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery in 2021.
Swinney was born in the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, the son of Kenneth Swinney, a garage manager. His uncle Tom Hunter was awarded the Victoria Cross whilst serving with the Royal Marines in World War II. He was educated at Forrester High School, before attending the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated with an MA Honours degree in politics in 1986.
Early political career
Swinney joined the SNP at the age of 15, citing his anger at the way in which Scotland had been portrayed by television commentators at the Commonwealth Games. He involved himself in the SNP Youth Wing and gradually became more active in the party, becoming firstly the SNP assistant national secretary and then the national secretary in 1986, at the age of 22.
Swinney was a research officer for the Scottish Coal Project (1987–1988), a senior management consultant with Development Options (1988–1992), and a strategic planning principal with Scottish Amicable (1992–1997). In the SNP, he served as national secretary until 1992, then vice convenor, later senior vice-convenor (deputy leader) 1992–1997. At the time of the 1990 leadership contest he supported Margaret Ewing in her bid to become SNP leader, but this did not stop him becoming politically close to the man who went on to win that contest, Alex Salmond.
House of Commons
He stood down as a Westminster MP at the 2001 general election in order to avoid splitting his time, in line with all of his colleagues who found themselves in a similar 'dual mandate' position.
Leader of the SNP
The leadership contest in 2000, caused by Alex Salmond's decision to step down as party leader, was marked by serious argument between the Gradualist wing of the party, who in the main supported Swinney, and the Fundamentalist wing, who in the main supported Alex Neil. Swinney won the contest but the media raised some doubt about his ability to lead the party following poor SNP performances in the 2001 UK general election and the 2003 Scottish Parliament election. He saw off a leadership challenge from Bill Wilson in 2003, winning by 577 votes to 111.
In September 2003 he urged SNP activists to ask the public, "Do you want independence, yes or no? And then tell the Brits to get off." A spokesman for Scottish Labour condemned the Swinney's use of language and said, "There is no place in Scotland for his brand of extreme nationalism."
Though retaining its two seats at the 2004 European elections, in a smaller field of 7 (Scotland up until then had 8 MEPs) the Scottish press and certain elements within the fundamentalist wing of the Party depicted the result as a disaster for the SNP putting further pressure on Swinney who resigned soon afterwards on 22 June 2004.
After the SNP emerged as the largest party following the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, Swinney led coalition talks with the Scottish Greens. He was later appointed Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth in the Cabinet of the minority SNP government.
As response to Swinney not notifying the Scottish Parliament that he had let the Scottish Variable Rate lapse due to not funding this tax mechanism, the Scottish Parliament voted to censure him and called his actions "an abuse of power". Subsequently, a freedom of information request showed that even if Swinney had funded the mechanism, problems and delays in the HM Revenue & Customs computer system made any collection of the tax impossible. The Scottish Government added, "The power has not lapsed, the HMRC simply does not have an IT system capable of delivering a ten-month state of readiness."
Cabinet Secretary for Education
Following the election of the SNP to lead the Scottish Government following the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections, Swinney, for the first time in nine years, was shifted from his roles as Cabinet Secretary for the Economy to Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.
After the 2017 General Election saw the SNP lose 21 seats, pollster Professor John Curtice told the BBC that the party's record on education had likely dented its popularity: “The SNP may want to reflect that their domestic record, not least on schools, is beginning to undermine their support among those who on the constitutional question are still willing to support the Nationalist position.”
In March 2020, after the results of Scottish students dropped in maths and science in the international PISA rankings for education, Swinney admitted, "There is progress to be made in maths and science." Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: "These two areas are so critical to the success of much of Scotland's modern economy. We should be doing so much better."
In August 2020 he was subject to a vote of no confidence in Parliament, with the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all accusing Swinney of creating an exam results system which "unfairly penalised pupils at schools which had historically not performed so well". Swinney claimed there was "no evidence" the system disadvantaged poorer pupils. During the No Confidence debate, Nicola Sturgeon described him as “one of the most decent and dedicated people in Scottish politics”, while the Herald newspaper reported that: "Mr Swinney endured a deeply uncomfortable hour in the Holyrood chamber, as opposition MSPs said he had been a serial failure at the education portfolio, and he knew it." The motion was defeated by 67 votes to 58 resulting in Swinney surviving the vote and remaining as Scottish Education Secretary.
In March 2021 Swinney was the subject of a second motion of no confidence. As the minister in charge of liaising with the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, Swinney twice refused to publish legal advice requested by the committee. After two votes in Parliament failed to persuade him to publish the advice, opposition parties announced a motion of no confidence in him. Swinney u-turned and published the advice; the Scottish Greens declared they would not support the motion of no confidence and it was defeated by 65 votes to 57.
A report by Audit Scotland in March 2021 concluded that the results of Swinney's efforts to reduce the poverty related attainment gap in Scottish education were "limited and [fell] short of the Scottish Government’s aims. Improvement needs to happen more quickly and there needs to be greater consistency across the country.” In 10 Scottish council areas the attainment gap between the richest and the poorest children increased.
Cabinet Secretary for Covid recovery
Following the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, Scottish Labour urged Sturgeon to replace Swinney as Cabinet Secretary for Education, citing what it called "a litany of failures", in the “hope a new minister can stop the rot.” On the 18th May, Sturgeon announced John Swinney would continue as Deputy First Minister but would be reshuffled to the new cabinet role as Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery.
Swinney has held several posts within the party at local and national level, including National Secretary, Vice Convener for Publicity and Depute Leader. In 2000, Swinney was elected Leader (or National Convenor) of the SNP, becoming Leader of the Opposition in the Scottish Parliament. He stood down as SNP leader in 2004 and became Convener of the Scottish Parliament's European and External Relations Committee.
Swinney was previously a Member of Parliament (MP) for Tayside North in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, before taking the same seat in the Scottish Parliament's 1999, 2003 and 2007 elections. In 2007 he achieved the largest constituency vote for any candidate in Scotland. At the election in May 2011, he was re-elected with 18,219 votes, and a majority of 10,353. Swinney's vote was the second highest in Scotland, second only to the then First Minister, Alex Salmond MSP.
Following Nicola Sturgeon taking the office of First Minister, it was announced on 21 November 2014 that Swinney would become Deputy First Minister of Scotland in a cabinet reshuffle.
Swinney is married and has three children.
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