Poor election results and infighting force Swinney to quit as SNP leader

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Indy Politics

John Swinney resigned as leader of the Scottish National Party yesterday after criticism from supporters over a dismal showing in the European election. The SNP polled less than 20 per cent of the vote in the election this month and failed to overtake Labour, as Mr Swinney had promised.

John Swinney resigned as leader of the Scottish National Party yesterday after criticism from supporters over a dismal showing in the European election. The SNP polled less than 20 per cent of the vote in the election this month and failed to overtake Labour, as Mr Swinney had promised.

The 40-year-old MSP for Tayside North was elected leader in September, 2000, but has faced continued sniping from disaffected party members over his acceptance of the concept of devolution. Mr Swinney maintained that independence could be achieved by increasing the power and influence of his party within the Scottish Parliament, but many rank and file members claimed the party should maintain its objective of total independence.

Despite Mr Swinney's attempts to modernise the party and demonstrate its ability to govern Scotland, support for the SNP has fallen in the past three elections. In the 2001 general election, the party returned just five MPs, one less than in 1997; in 2003, it lost eight seats in the Holyrood elections, and slumped to its worst share of the vote at the recent European poll for almost 20 years, putting the SNP at risk of being overtaken by the Tories.

Pressure on Mr Swinney, an SNP member since 1979, to make way for a "more charismatic leader" has grown among factions in the party who claim his "safe-hands" approach has failed to ignite the imagination of voters. "For those of us in the SNP, the case for independence is clearly compelling," Mr Swinney said yesterday. "But many voters are telling us we have not yet answered their key question: why independence?

"And despite my best efforts over the past four years, I accept that many people still do not have a clear understanding of what the SNP stands for, over and above an independent Scotland. As leader, I take full responsibility for the fact that that we have not made as much progress in these areas as I would have liked."

He said he had been determined to stay on as leader and see the SNP through to the 2007 election, and he might have succeeded if enough of his senior party colleagues had rallied to his defence. But sniping from senior nationalists such as Gill Paterson and Jim Sillars, a former deputy leader of the party, made his position untenable.

Mr Swinney said: "I have come to the view that the SNP cannot make the electoral progress I believe is possible, if our vital political message is communicated through an endless debate of my leadership. As someone who has devoted all of my adult life to the cause of Scottish independence that is something I cannot allow to happen."

When Mr Swinney took over the leadership of the SNP from Alex Salmond in 2000 the party was riding high in the opinion polls, with 30 per cent of Scots predicting they would vote SNP in the next general election.

Roseanna Cunningham, deputy leader of the SNP, is expected to announce her intention to stand for the leadership. Others put forward as possible leadership contenders are the party's justice spokeswoman, Nicola Sturgeon, Kenny MacAskill, a serving MSP, and Mike Russell, a former MSP.

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