Stephen Flynn being lined up for a long term ‘keep Kate out’ strategy in SNP leadership battle

SNP insiders have revealed a long term succession strategy to ensure controversial former finance minister Kate Forbes does not become leader.

David Maddox
Political Editor
Thursday 02 May 2024 16:57 BST
Humza Yousaf fights back tears as he resigns as Scottish first minister

Senior SNP insiders have told The Independent that there is a succession plan in place to prevent the party from moving to the right under a potential Kate Forbes leadership in the future.

Ms Forbes has ruled herself out of making a second bid for the leadership in just over a year, in a move that should ensure former deputy first minister John Swinney is unopposed as a replacement to Humza Yousaf.

But senior party sources have claimed that Mr Swinney, who was previously leader in a disastrous period for the SNP between 2000 and 2004, is “only a stopgap” option until the next Scottish parliament election in 2026.

An SNP MP, who is an ally of Mr Yousaf and his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon, said that the plan is for the party’s current Westminster leader Stephen Flynn to be parachuted in as “the long-term option” for leader at the Holyrood election.

The aim appears to be to ensure that Ms Forbes, who narrowly lost to Mr Yousaf last year, does not become leader of the party.

Kate Forbes will not be running as SNP leader this time
Kate Forbes will not be running as SNP leader this time (PA)

The former finance secretary courted huge controversy with her strong Christian views as a member of the Free Church of Scotland which are seen as contrary to the “progressive” views of the current SNP, in place since Ms Sturgeon was leader.

Discussing the leadership void left by Mr Yousaf’s resignation, the SNP MP said: “Swinney has the authority, loved by the members, respected by officials. I would be content. And more crucially laser focused on what people’s concerns are, and not green obsessive nonsense. Crucially head and shoulders above anyone in that parliament (Holyrood).”

Asked who the long-term answer is: “That would be Stephen Flynn.”

When it was pointed out that Flynn is in the wrong parliament with the SNP only accepting leaders based in Holyrood, the MP added: “He finds a way in 2026.”

Meanwhile, a friend of Ms Forbes, who is still considering whether to challenge Mr Swinney for the leadership, said: “Sturgeon’s allies will do whatever they can to stop Kate. This is a ‘keep Kate out’ strategy and succession plan at all costs.

“The problem is that she is the only one with the vision and ability to make the changes the party needs to make. We are heading for a defeat this year [in the general election] and in 2026.”

Stephen Flynn is seen as the long-term answer as SNP leader
Stephen Flynn is seen as the long-term answer as SNP leader (PA)

However, Ms Forbes’ views have been described as “completely unacceptable” by one senior SNP figure while an SNP MP added: “We do not want a ‘tartan Tory’ leader.”

Ms Forbes is opposed to gay marriage which is seen as a red line by many progressive SNP members and a reason not to support her.

She also described having children out of wedlock as “wrong”.

Ms Forbes has also outlined her opposition to abortion in the past.

In 2018, she told the National Prayer Breakfast for Scotland that politicians should “recognise that the way we treat the most vulnerable – whether the unborn or the terminally ill – is a measure of true progress”.

She also helped lead opposition to a bill in Scotland which would have provided gender recognition for trans people. Ms Forbes was among 15 SNP parliamentarians to sign an open letter asking for a delay in the legislation.

Ultimately, the Gender Recognition Bill was passed by the Scottish parliament but blocked by the UK government.

John Swinney announced his leadership bid today
John Swinney announced his leadership bid today (PA)

Despite her controversial views, Ms Forbes experienced a rapid rise after being first elected to Holyrood in 2016 and was the finance secretary until Ms Sturgeon quit last year.

Meanwhile, Stephen Flynn, the MP for Aberdeen South, has enjoyed a similar rise in the party’s ranks after being elected to Westminster in 2019.

He succeeded Ian Blackford as Westminster leader in 2022 and has since led the party’s focus on issues such as the war in Gaza.

Mr Flynn this week put his support behind John Swinney to become leader in the aftermath of Mr Yousaf’s resignation after the Scottish government faced a vote of no confidence following the end of their coalition deal with the Greens.

After Mr Swinney made his announcement, Mr Flynn posted on social media: “The unifying statement of intent from John Swinney this morning could not have been more impressive. Precisely what the party, but more importantly the public, needed to hear. A man who speaks to all of Scotland, he will lead us to a brighter future.”

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